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Category Archives: Goldman Sachs

2010: A Year in Review

Medical Capital Holdings. Securities America. Behringer Harvard REIT I. Main Street Natural Gas Bonds. Tim Durham. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Preferred Shares. Goldman Sachs CDO Fraud. Lehman Structured Notes. These names were among the hot topics that dominated the investment headlines in 2010.

In January, Securities America was accused by Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin of misleading investors and intentionally making material misrepresentations and omissions in order to get them to purchase private placements in Medical Capital Holdings. Medical Capital was sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in July 2009 and placed into receivership. Its collapse ultimately created about $1 billion in losses for investors throughout the country.

According to the Massachusetts complaint, as well as other state complaints that would follow, many investors were unaware of the risks involved in their Medical Capital private placements. They also didn’t know about the crumbling financial health of the company. Securities America, on the other hand, was fully aware of both, regulators allege.

In February, non-traded real estate investment trusts like the Behringer Harvard REIT I became front-page news, as investors filed complaints over what their brokers did and did not disclose about the investments. In the case of Behringer and other non-traded REITs, including Cornerstone, Inland Western and Inland American, investors found themselves blindsided after discovering their investments were high-risk, illiquid and contained highly specific and lengthy exit clauses.

In March, rogue brokers Bambi Holzer faced charges in connection to sales of private placements in Provident Royalties. Like Medical Capital Holdings, the SEC charged Provident with securities fraud, citing $485 million in private securities sales. In March 2010, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) formally expelled Provident Asset Management LLC, the broker-dealer arm of Provident.

Ponzi schemes were big news, as well, in March. Heading the list of offenders was Rhonda Breard, a former broker for ING Financial Partners. State regulators contend Breard scammed nearly $8 million from investors in a Ponzi scheme that allegedly had been going on since at least 2007.

In April, Goldman Sachs and its role in the financial crisis faced new scrutiny by Congress. Internal emails became the driving force behind the interest. Eventually, charges were filed by the SEC over a synthetic collateralized loan obligation – Abacus 2007-ACI – that produced about $1 billion in investor losses. Goldman later reached a settlement with the SEC, paying a $550 million fine. The fine remains the 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.

In May, FINRA stepped up its own scrutiny of non-traded REITs. On its watch list: Behringer Harvard REIT I, Inland America Real Estate Trust, Inland Western Retail Real Estate Trust, Wells Real Estate Investment Trust II and Piedmont Office Realty Trust. In particular, FINRA began to probe the ways in which broker/dealers marketed and sold non-traded REITs to investors.

In June, 49 broker/dealers found themselves named in a lawsuit involving sales of Provident Royalties private placements. The lawsuit, filed June 21 by the trustee overseeing Provident – Milo H. Segner Jr. – charged the broker/dealers of failing to uphold their fiduciary obligations when selling a series of Provident Royalties LLC private placements. Among the leading sellers of private placements in Provident Royalties were Capital Financial Services, with $33.7 million in sales; Next Financial Group, with $33.5 million; and QA3 Financial Corp., with $32.6 million.

In July, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were back in the news, as a rash of investors began filing lawsuits and arbitration claims over preferred shares purchased in the companies. In 2007 and 2008, investment firms like UBS, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and others sold billions of dollars in various series of preferred stock issued by the two mortgage giants. According to investors, however, the brokerages never revealed key information about the preferred shares, including the rapidly deteriorating financial health of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and the fact that both companies had a growing appetite for risky lending, excessive leverage and investments in toxic derivatives.

In August, new issues regarding retained asset accounts (RAAs) came to light. Specifically, RAAs allow insurers to earn high returns – 4.8% – on the proceeds of a life insurance policy. Meanwhile, beneficiaries often receive peanuts via interest rates as low as 0.5%. Adding to the issues of RAAs is the fact that the products are not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC).

In September, new concerns about the suitability of leveraged, inverse exchange-traded funds (ETFs) for individual investors began to crop up. Among other things, regulators cautioned investors about the products and stated that they may be inappropriate for long-term investors because returns can potentially deviate from underlying indexes when held for longer than single trading day.

In October, the ugliness associated with some non-traded REITs gained new momentum. A number of non-traded REIT programs eliminated or severely limited their share repurchase programs. At the same time, some non-traded REITs continued to offer their shares to the public. As of the first quarter of 2010, this group included Behringer Harvard Multi-family REIT I, Grubb & Ellis Apartment REIT, Wells REIT II, and Wells Timberland REIT.

In November, sales of structured notes hit record highs of more than a $42 billion. Leading the pack in sales of structured notes was Morgan Stanley at $10.1 billion, followed by Bank of America Corp., which issued $7.9 billion.

Because of their complexity, structured products are not for those who don’t fully understand them. Moreover, once an investor puts money into a structured product, he or she is essentially locked in for the duration of the contract. And, contrary to promises of principal by some brokers, investors can still lose money – and a lot of it – in structured notes.

Case in point: Lehman Brothers Holdings. Investors who invested in principal-protected notes issued by Lehman Brothers lost almost all of their investment when Lehman filed for bankruptcy in September 2008.

Also big news in November 2010: Tim Durham and Fair Finance. The offices of Fair Finance were raided by federal agents of Nov. 24. On that same day, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Indianapolis filed court papers alleging that Fair Finance operated as a Ponzi scheme, using money from new investors to pay off prior purchasers of the investment certificates. According to reports, investors were defrauded out of more than $200 million.

The effects of Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy continued to unfold in December 2010 for many investors who had investments in Main Street Natural Gas Bonds. Main Street Natural Gas Bonds were marketed and sold by a number of Wall Street brokerages as safe, conservative municipal bonds. Instead, the bonds were complex derivative securities backed by Lehman Brothers. When Lehman filed for bankruptcy protection in September 2008, the trading values of the Main Street Bonds plummeted.

Many investors who purchased Main Street Natural Gas Bonds did so because they were looking for a safe, tax-free income-producing investment backed by a municipality. What they got, however, was a far different reality.

Goldman Sachs Fraud Case Update

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!!!”

Goldman Sachs Fraud Case Update

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!!!”

Merrill Lynch & The ‘Sophisticated Investor’ Defense

A June 11 blog by the Wall Street Journal illustrates a growing trend on Wall Street – the sophisticated investor defense. The premise is simple: If the complex financial products that Wall Street markets and sells go south, it’s the investor’s problem. After all, the products are geared to those who are financially savvy. They should have therefore known the risks involved.

In reality, even the most sophisticated investor may be unaware of the complexities and risks surrounding some of today’s investments. Moreover, even the “average” investor gets burned in these deals, usually through pension funds that participate in the investments.

A recent case involving Merrill Lynch and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) is a perfect example. Merrill Lynch’s CDO deals were sold to institutional and retail investors. In other words, so-called sophisticated and less-than-sophisticated investors were part of the sales pitch. It also apparently was common fare for Merrill Lynch to sell retail investors the lowest-rated CDO slices of the deals.

Investors like the Slomacks ultimately paid the price, according to the WSJ article. The Slomacks invested $2.65 million in several Merrill-issued CDOs, losing all but $16,500. They have since filed an arbitration claim against Merrill Lynch with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

Another investment firm looking to employ the “sophisticated investor” defense over CDO deals gone bad is Goldman Sachs. For more than a year, Goldman has faced intense questioning by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations about its CDO dealings, while investors contend Goldman used deceptive sales practices to market billions of dollars’ worth of the products. To date, the probes have cost Goldman $25 billion in market capitalization, according to a June 14 article by Reuters.

In April, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a civil fraud lawsuit against Goldman Sachs over a CDO called Abacus 2007. The Abacus transactions were synthetic collateralized debt obligations – financial products that many financial analysts say were largely responsible for the worst collapse in financial markets since the Great Depression.

Goldman Sachs Faces New Lawsuit Over CDO Deals

Goldman Sachs is facing yet another lawsuit involving toxic synthetic collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). Australian hedge fund manager Basis Capital’s Yield Alpha Fund claims it was defrauded by Goldman when it purchased $78 million of the Timberwolf CDOs in June 2007 and that Goldman knew at the time of the sale the securities were destined to fail as the mortgage market began to decline.

Basis Capital is seeking more than $1 billion in damages.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of another fraud lawsuit against Goldman Sachs. In April, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a civil suit against Goldman in connection to the sale of a synthetic CDO known as Abacus. As reported June 9 by the Wall Street Journal, Goldman and the SEC are reportedly working to settle that case, which could cost Goldman between $500 million and $1 billion in fines.

Emails will likely play a central role in the Basis Capital case. According to complaint, one email from a former Goldman executive describes the $1 billion Timberwolf CDO as “one s—-y deal.”

Basis Capital was forced to liquidate the Basis Yield Alpha Fund in late 2007 after sustaining heavy losses betting on the subprime mortgage market, including buying instruments like Timberwolf.

“Goldman was pressuring investors to take the risk of toxic securities off its books with knowingly false sales pitches,” said Eric L. Lewis of Baach Robinson & Lewis PLLC, Basis Yield Alpha Fund’s lead counsel, in the Wall Street Journal article. “Goldman should be called to account for its deception of BYAFM and other investors who were misled.”

Goldman Sachs Accused Of Dodging Congressional Panel

Goldman Sachs is accused of trying to hide key information and bypassing a congressional investigation into the causes of the financial crisis, according to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC). On June 4, the FCIC issued a subpoena to Goldman for failing to comply with the panel’s request back in January for documents and interviews over Goldman’s synthetic and hybrid collateralized debt obligations.

The deadline to provide the information was Feb. 26. The FCIC later gave Goldman several deadline extensions. Still, the requested information never materialized.

“They stretched us out thinking they played the game cleverly,” FCIC Vice Chairman Bill Thomas said in a June 8 article in USA Today. “They may have more to cover up than we thought.”

Phil Angelides, chairman of the FCIC, had similar comments for Goldman. In a June 7 story on CNBC, he stated the following:

“We are not going to let the American people be played for chumps here. We should not be forced to play ‘Where’s Waldo’ on behalf of the America people.”

Goldman Sachs also is facing a civil fraud lawsuit by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in connection to a mortgage-related investment that it created and sold in 2007.

Citigroup, Morgan Stanley & Jackson Segregated CDO

Citigroup and Morgan Stanley appear to be taking a lead from Goldman Sachs when it comes to collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). As reported in a May 21 article by Bloomberg, Citigroup is the focus of several inquiries for allegedly selling a series of mortgage-linked securities – known as the Jackson Segregated Portfolio – to investors without disclosing the fact that Morgan Stanley helped shape the investments while also betting they would fail.

According to the Bloomberg article, marketing documents for the products – which were underwritten by Citigroup in 2006 – failed to provide information on the entity responsible for selecting the underlying mortgage bonds. Sources close to the deal contend that the entity was a Morgan Stanley unit. Six of the seven series of Jackson bonds later defaulted, costing investors more than $150 million of losses, according to Bloomberg data.

So far, Citigroup hasn’t been publicly accused of any violations tied to the Jackson deals.

In a similar situation last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) accused Goldman Sachs of misleading investors by failing to disclose that the hedge fund, Paulson & Company, had a role in picking securities it then bet against.

As in the Goldman Sachs case, the Jackson Segregated investments involved a synthetic CDO. Derivatives linked to mortgage bonds were pooled together, packaged into new bonds and then sold investors. On the other end of the Jackson derivatives was a “short” investor. Profits were made when the underlying bonds failed.

“To get the deals done, most underwriters of synthetic CDOs initially took the short positions, sometimes with a plan to sell them off later. When Citigroup set up Jackson, it arranged with Morgan Stanley to take over the short positions once the deal closed . . . Citigroup allowed the firm to help select the bonds linked to the derivatives because Morgan Stanley would have a stake in the performance of the securities,” the Bloomberg article reports

Goldman Sachs Expects More CDO Lawsuits In Its Future

Already facing a fraud lawsuit by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) related to collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), Goldman Sachs says additional CDO lawsuits over its mortgage-trading activities are likely in the coming months.

“We anticipate that additional putative shareholder derivative actions and other litigation may be filed, and regulatory and other investigations and actions commenced against us with respect to offering of CDOs,” Goldman Sachs said in its 10-Q filing with the SEC on May 10.

The SEC’s lawsuit against Goldman accuses the investment bank and Vice President Fabrice Tourre of misleading investors about a mortgage-linked security and the role the hedge fund, Paulson & Co., played in selecting and then betting against the investment.

Following the SEC’s lawsuit, Goldman Sachs stock fell 22%.

Last month, current and former Goldman Sachs executives, including CEO Lloyd Blankfein and Tourre, faced intense grilling by the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Members of the committee subsequently released potentially damaging e-mails that showed various Goldman Sachs employees questioning the securities at the heart of the SEC’s lawsuit and referring to them as “junk.”

Goldman also warned in its 10Q filing that any settlement with the SEC could affect its business operations, including potentially hindering its core broker/dealer activities, as well as its ability to advise mutual funds.

Goldman Sachs Annual Meeting: A Showdown With Shareholders

Embattled investment bank Goldman Sachs hosted its annual shareholder meeting this morning in downtown Manhattan. As expected, Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs’ chairman and chief executive officer, faced a litany of questions from shareholders. Prior to the meeting, dozens of protesters lined up outside of Goldman’s office building, holding signs that spelled the words, “Greed” and “Financial Reform Now.”

“I recognize that this is an important moment in the life of this institution,” Blankfein said during the actual meeting, adding that he had “no current plans” to step down as the leader of Goldman Sachs. Blankfein also tells the crowd that Goldman understands there is a disconnect between how the company views itself and how Goldman is viewed in the public’s eye.

Goldman Sachs’ stock has fallen more than 23% since the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed fraud charges against the company on April 16. In its complaint, the SEC accuses Goldman and employee Fabrice Tourre of defrauding investors in the sale of securities tied to toxic mortgages. Goldman Sachs also is facing a criminal investigation, according to numerous news reports.

During questioning by the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation, emails came to light that showed Goldman Sachs employees refer to the securities the bank created and sold to investors as “junk.”

Meanwhile, the agenda for Goldman’s annual meeting – which was standing room only – included a number of shareholder proposals. Among them: executive compensation, collateral increases for derivatives trading and splitting the chairman/CEO position. On the latter issue, three other banks – Bank of America, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley – have, in fact, split the chairman and CEO roles.

The Wall Street Journal provided live blogging of Goldman’s annual meeting. Among the highlights:

  • A shareholder states that Goldman Sachs bonuses have “contributed to a culture of greed.”
  • Blankfein comments that the recent Senate hearing “was not the most comfortable moment in my life.”
  • An asset manager from Boston says the chairman split is “very important to regain credibility.” Another shareholder suggests that Blankfein step down at the end of the month.
  • To no surprise, Blankfein firmly rejects the notion of resigning from Goldman. “I will not be stepping down Monday,” he says.
  • Jesse Jackson states that “Wall Street is rising. Citizens are sinking.”

In other Goldman Sachs news, the New York Times reports that American International Group (AIG) has replaced Goldman as its main corporate adviser. The move could be the first of many client defections to come for Goldman.

Goldman Sachs Fined Over Short Sales Deals

Embattled investment bank Goldman Sachs has been fined $450,000 by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the New York Stock Exchange over what regulators say are hundreds of violations involving short sales.

According to the SEC’s complaint, Goldman continued to write naked short sale orders following a ban by regulators two days after Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008.

Short-sellers often borrow a company’s shares in a short sale deal, sell them, then buy them back when the shares decline and pocket the difference in price. As reported May 4 by the Associated Press, the SEC requires brokers to promptly buy or borrow securities to deliver on a short sale. In the case involving Goldman, the SEC and the NYSE allege that the company failed to procure shares to cover its customers’ short positions in the time required.

Read the SEC’s complaint.

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs and Goldman VP Fabrice Tourre face a fraud lawsuit by the SEC, which alleges the bank and Tourre sold a collateralized debt obligation called Abacus 2007-AC1 without disclosing the fact that the hedge-fund firm of Paulson & Co. helped to pick some of the underlying mortgage securities and was betting on the financial instrument’s failure.


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