The admission of guilt came on July 15 as Goldman Sachs settled civil fraud charges with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over its marketing of a collateralized debt obligations (CDO) package known as Abacus 2007-ACI.
In settling the matter, Goldman agreed to pay a $550 million fine. It is biggest fine ever levied by the SEC on a U.S. financial institution. Goldman also acknowledged that its marketing materials for Abacus contained incomplete information.
“This settlement is a stark lesson to Wall Street firms that no product is too complex, and no investor too sophisticated, to avoid a heavy price if a firm violates the fundamental principles of honest treatment and fair dealing,” says Robert Khuzami, Director of SEC Enforcement.
Goldman’s troubles began back in April, when the SEC accused the investment bank of failing to disclose that one of its clients, Paulson & Co, had helped select the securities contained in the Abacus mortgage portfolio and which was later sold to investors.
According to the SEC, Goldman did not reveal that Paulson, one of the world’s largest hedge funds, had, in fact, bet that the value of the securities would fall.
Following the collapse of the housing market, the securities in that mortgage portfolio – i.e. Abacus – lost more than $1 billion.
Despite the settlement with the SEC, Goldman is far from being out of legal hot water. One of the investors in Abacus was the Royal Bank of Scotland PLC (RBS), which lost $841 million as a result of the deal. Of Goldman’s $550 million settlement with the SEC, approximately $100 million will be paid to RBS. However, the RBS may be considering a civil suit against Goldman Sachs Group to recoup additional financial losses it sustained in Abacus, according to a July 16 article in the Wall Street Journal.
Meanwhile, Fabrice Tourre, who is the only Goldman Sachs executive named as a defendant in the SEC’s fraud lawsuit, has yet to settle with the regulator.
Tourre, the creator of Abacus, has repeatedly denied the SEC’s charges that he misled investors. A number of potentially damaging emails seem to refute Tourre’s claims, however. In one email, Tourre comments on the state of the housing market and the inevitable demise of Abacus:
“More and more leverage in the system. The whole building is about to collapse anytime now … Only potential survivor, the fabulous Fab … standing in the middle of all these complex, highly leveraged, exotic trades he created without necessarily understanding all of the implication of those monstrosities!!!”