Bankster Lobbyists Writing Regulatory ‘Reform’ Legislation
Nearly six years since massive financial fraud and speculative market manipulation drove the global capitalist economy off the rails, congressional grifters in both benighted political parties have turned over the legislative process to bankster lobbyists.
Talk about technocratic efficiency!
Last week, The New York Times revealed that “Bank lobbyists are not leaving it to lawmakers to draft legislation that softens financial regulations. Instead, the lobbyists are helping to write it themselves.”
According to emails leaked to the Times, a bill that “sailed through the House Financial Services Committee this month–over the objections of the Treasury Department–was essentially Citigroup’s.”
Despite huge losses during the capitalist economic meltdown, which included heavy exposure to toxic collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) which cost shareholders some 85 percent of asset value by early 2009, by 2012 the bank had built up an enormous cash horde to the tune of $420 billion (£277.7bn), derived from selling some $500 billion (£330.6bn) of “special assets” placed in Citi holdings that were guaranteed from losses by the US Treasury Department; this included untaxed overseas profits of some $35.9 billion (£23.74bn) according to Bloomberg.
As I reported last month, Citigroup was handed some $45 billion (£29.78bn) in TARP funds while the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve secretly backstopped more than $300 billion (£197.31bn) in toxic assets on their books. In addition to receiving “$2.5 trillion [£1.64tn] of support from the American taxpayer through capital infusions, asset guarantees and low-cost loans,” as Wall Street on Parade analyst Pam Martens pointed out, like other too-big-to-jail banks such as Wachovia and HSBC, the Citi brand has long been associated with washing dirty cash for drug cartels.
Hit with a toothless Consent Order by the Federal Reserve in March over “deficiencies in the Banks’ BSA/AML [Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering] compliance programs,” federal regulators charged that Citigroup and their affiliate Banamex “lacked effective systems of governance and internal controls to adequately oversee the activities of the Banks with respect to legal, compliance, and reputational risk related to the Banks’ respective BSA/AML compliance programs.”
The Federal Reserve “action” followed an anemic Consent Order last year by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) which also cited Citi’s failure to “adopt and implement a compliance program that adequately covers the required BSA/AML program elements due to an inadequate system of internal controls.” Additionally, the OCC charged that the “Bank did not develop adequate due diligence on foreign correspondent bank customers and failed to file Suspicious Activity Reports (‘SARs’) related to its remote deposit capture/international cash letter instrument activity in a timely manner.”
Nevertheless, as with other criminogenic banks such as JPMorgan Chase, similarly hit with an equally toothless Consent Order by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in January, in their infinite wisdom the Federal Reserve averred that their Citigroup action was issued “without this Order constituting an admission or denial by Citigroup of any allegation made or implied by the Board of Governors in connection with this matter, and solely for the purpose of settling this matter without a formal proceeding being filed and without the necessity for protracted or extended hearings or testimony.”
In other words, let’s sweep this under the rug as quickly as possible and move on. But before we do, let’s step back for a moment and wrap our heads around a few salient facts.
Here’s a bank with a documented history as the GAO revealed in 1998, of laundering drug money for well-placed Juárez and Gulf Cartel crony Raúl Salinas de Gortari, the brother of former Mexican president Carlos Salinas, charged with amassing a multimillion dollar fortune from narcotics rackets and then squirreling it away in London, Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.
Does this evoke any memories?
According to GAO investigators, “Mr. Salinas was able to transfer $90 million to $100 million between 1992 and 1994 by using a private banking relationship formed by Citibank New York in 1992. The funds were transferred through Citibank Mexico and Citibank New York to private banking investment accounts in Citibank London and Citibank Switzerland.”
Beginning in 1992, Citibank “assisted Mr. Salinas with these transfers and effectively disguised the funds’ source and destination, thus breaking the funds’ paper trail.” And they did so by creating “an offshore private investment company named Trocca, to hold Mr. Salinas’s assets, through Cititrust (Cayman) and investment accounts in Citibank London and Citibank Switzerland,” and then failed to “prepare a financial profile on him or request a waiver for the profile, as required by then Citibank know your customer policy.”
Keep in mind that when Swiss prosecutors completed their money laundering investigation, The New York Times disclosed that “Swiss police investigators have concluded that a brother of former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari played a central role in Mexico’s cocaine trade, raking in huge bribes to protect the flow of drugs into the United States.”
That Swiss report stated, “When Carlos Salinas de Gortari became President of Mexico in 1988, Raúl Salinas de Gortari assumed control over practically all drug shipments through Mexico. Through his influence and bribes paid with drug money, officials of the army and the police supported and protected the flourishing drug business.”
Does the name of former Banamex CEO Roberto Hernández ring any bells?
Described as “the single biggest winner” of Mexican bank privatizations engineered by the Bush and Clinton regimes during the 1990s as Narco News disclosed, a subsequent investigation revealed that “Hernández had been accused–publicly and via a criminal complaint–by the daily newspaper Por Esto! of trafficking tons of Colombian cocaine through his Caribbean costa properties on that peninsula since 1997.”
And when Citigroup acquired Banamex in 2001 for the then-princely sum of $12.5 billion (£8.27bn), it was described as the largest US-Mexican corporate merger in history. Should it surprise us that this Citi subsidiary was named alongside parent Citigroup by the OCC and Federal Reserve for repeated failures to adequately police dirty money flowing into their coffers?
Members of the House Financial Services Committee should examine why they would turn over the legislative process to a criminal financial cartel!
As Times’ journalists Eric Lipton and Ben Protess reported, “Citigroup’s recommendations were reflected in more than 70 lines of the House committee’s 85-line bill. Two crucial paragraphs, prepared by Citigroup in conjunction with other Wall Street banks, were copied nearly word for word. (Lawmakers changed two words to make them plural.)”
Proving yet again, that Washington lawmakers are beholden to their Wall Street masters, MapLight, a nonpartisan research group that “reveals money’s influence on politics in the US Congress,” disclosed that legislators “serving” on the House Financial Services Committee “approved six bills that would roll back pieces of the Dodd-Frank Act designed to improve regulation of the derivatives market.”
Lawmakers who voted “yes” on HR 992, the Orwellian-named Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act, “received, on average, 2.6 times more money from top banks than committee members” who voted “no.” MapLight further disclosed that lawmakers who voted “yes” on this pernicious piece of legislative detritus “received, on average, 3 times more money from the Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate (FIRE) sector,” than committee members who voted “no.”
The $700 trillion derivatives market, 93.2 percent of which is controlled by the four largest too-big-to-fail-and-jail US banks, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, is a cash cow and shadow market for crooked financial insiders. HR 992, which rolled-back a key provision of 2010’s anemic Dodd-Frank financial “reform” legislation, Sec. 716, would have required banks to spin off their derivatives activities into separate units that would not have access to federal bank subsidies, i.e., taxpayer bailouts.
“In recent weeks, the Times reported, “Wall Street groups also held fund-raisers for lawmakers who co-sponsored the bills. At one dinner Wednesday night, corporate executives and lobbyists paid up to $2,500 to dine in a private room of a Greek restaurant just blocks from the Capitol with Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, Democrat of New York, a co-sponsor of the bill championed by Citigroup.”
Responding to questions, Financial Services Committee member Jim Himes, a former Goldman Sachs banker, third-term Connecticut Democrat and one of the top recipients of Wall Street largess to the tune of $194,500 according to OpenSecrets told the Times:
“It’s appalling, it’s disgusting, it’s wasteful and it opens the possibility of conflicts of interest and corruption. It’s unfortunately the world we live in.”
No Mr. Himes, it’s the world you live in.
While your colleague across the aisle, Stephen Fincher (R-TN), cites Bible verses to justify gutting federal nutritional assistance to 47 million hungry Americans while being the “the second largest recipient of farm subsidies in the United States Congress” according to Forbes, and received some $3.48 million (£2.3m) since 1999 in USDA farm subsidies while doing the “Lord’s work” according to the Environmental Working Group, the US Congress, including “liberal” Obama Democrats have promoted every filthy piece of legislation that facilitates Wall Street’s plundering of the American people.
Referencing the recent vote on HR 992, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that in the first quarter of 2013, members of the Financial Services Committee “received more than $1.3 million in donations to their campaigns and leadership PACs from the securities and investment industry and commercial banks.”
According to OpenSecrets, “By far the largest source of cash from the two industries was the Investment Company Institute, a trade association representing Wall Street firms. The ICI gave at least $129,000 to members of the House Financial Services Committee. Other trade groups representing banks and investment firms, including the American Bankers Association and the Independent Community Bankers of America, were also major contributors.”
OpenSecrets reported that “Banking industry companies increased their contributions in 2013 to $640,286, from $497,169 in early 2011. Citigroup, in particular, jumped from $19,500 in donations to committee members to $39,500. UBS went from $64,250 to $88,000. Wells Fargo also opened its checkbook a little wider this year, giving $80,000, compared with $31,250 in 2011.”
Commenting on this latest gift to Wall Street criminals, the World Socialist Web Site observed: “Flush with the $85 billion in cash printed up and handed to the banks every month by the Federal Reserve, business at the Wall Street casino is booming. Stock values are at record levels and so are bank profits, amidst declining wages and mass poverty.”
“Under these conditions,” Marxist critic Andre Damon averred, “the banks have been pushing to rip up even the very modest restrictions on financial speculation, while broadening the scope of government bailout laws. The aim is simple: to give banks the maximum ability to speculate without constraint, while getting the maximum possible government assistance if and when the bubble collapses.”
None of this should surprise anyone who has paid the least attention to the cronyism and financial parasitism of the Obama regime.
From get-out-of-jail-free-cards passed out to drug money laundering banks by Eric Holder’s Justice Department, to the appointments of Citigroup alumnus and Cayman Islands tax-dodger Jacob Lew as Treasury Secretary, Debevoise & Plimpton partner Mary Jo White over at the Securities and Exchange Commission to the nomination of billionaire Hyatt Hotel heiress, subprime mortgage “pioneer” and union-buster Penny Pritzker to lead the Commerce Department, it’s a bankster world, all the time.
How’s that for Hope and Change™!
Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to publishing in Covert Action Quarterly and Global Research, an independent research and media group of writers, scholars, journalists and activists based in Montreal, he is a Contributing Editor with Cyrano’s Journal Today. His articles can be read on Dissident Voice, Pacific Free Press, Uncommon Thought Journal, and the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military “Civil Disturbance” Planning, distributed by AK Press and has contributed to the new book from Global Research, The Global Economic Crisis: The Great Depression of the XXI Century.
Goldman Sachs Really Does Not Like to Be Sued!
You know the power that great wealth can bring when banks sue a judge who does not rule in their favor. The kind of justice system that banks would prefer is one that never finds them guilty of any wrongdoing and, in order to make sure that happens, the banks’ money is fully employed in paying many, many lawyers to do their bidding.
The listing alone of the corporate lawyers engaged in the filing takes four pages!
These banks have already been found civilly guilty of mortgage fraud elsewhere so no one will be surprised at finding many new instances of fraud committed by them.
To no one’s surprise, of course, Goldman Sachs is fully represented in this case.
Why Are Big Banks Going To War With A Federal Judge?
The accusation: shoddy underwriting of mortgage-backed securities.
The request: that banks buy back their ugly securities so shoddily underwritten.
The nation’s largest banks have devised a novel way to protect their interests and save themselves from hundreds of billions of dollars in legal exposure. They’re taking a judge to court.
Lawyers for 17 banks submitted an unusual filing in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals this week (just listing all the corporate lawyers involved takes up the first four pages). The banks – including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley – stand accused of ripping off the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Federal Housing Finance Agency, Fannie and Freddie’s conservator, alleges that these banks improperly sold $200 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities without disclosing the shoddy underwriting of the underlying loans. FHFA argues the banks knew the loans in the securities were bad, yet sold them to Fannie and Freddie anyway, leading to massive losses and the need for a government bailout. So FHFA wants the banks to buy back the securities they improperly sold under false pretenses.
U.S. District Court Judge Denise Cote took over the case in December, 2011, and quickly made a series of rulings in the case, first denying a motion by the banks to dismiss the lawsuit. The bank lawyers have become so dissatisfied with Cote’s rulings, in fact, that they have asked the Second Circuit to reverse them. The filing calls for a “writ of mandamus” that would throw out a series of rulings around discovery, which the bank lawyers claim “deprived Petitioners of their right to obtain evidence.” (You can chew for a moment on the idea that banks are being deprived of their rights.)
Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Morgan Stanley (MS) lagged behind peers in a key measure of capital strength used by U.S. regulators to stress- test their resiliency in a severe recession.
The three firms submitted more-optimistic estimates of their capital strength and ability to avoid losses on trading and lending than Federal Reserve projections released yesterday for the 18 biggest U.S. banks. Of the three, the gap was widest for Goldman Sachs, which predicted that its Tier 1 common ratio may fall as low as 8.6 percent in a sharp economic downturn, compared with the central bank’s 5.8 percent estimate.
The disparities — including a gap of 1.3 percentage points for JPMorgan — raise the risk that some banks may have been too aggressive while seeking Fed approval to distribute capital to investors through dividends and share repurchases. The companies must maintain Tier 1 common ratios of at least 5 percent under their capital plans. The Fed is set to release the results of those requests next week.
“If you came in with rosier assumptions than the Fed’s own baseline, then you’re definitely at risk of failure” in the capital request, said Christopher Whalen, executive vice president at Carrington Investment Services LLC. “The Fed is going to push back on those banks.”
Spokesmen for JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, all based in New York, declined to comment.
Goldman Sachs dropped 2.3 percent to $152.98 in New York, the second-biggest decline in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. (BBSTI) The Bloomberg Banks Stress Test Index, which includes all 18 firms subject to yesterday’s test, declined 0.2 percent. JPMorgan fell 0.9 percent to $50.20 and Morgan Stanley dropped 0.8 percent to $23.03.
Auto lender Ally Financial Inc. (ALLY) had a capital ratio of 1.5 percent, the lowest of the firms tested. Detroit-based Ally, which is majority-owned by the U.S., disputed the Fed’s results, calling the analysis “inconsistent with historical experience” and “fundamentally flawed.” The company predicted its capital ratio would be 5.7 percent under the Fed’s scenario, according to a filing.
The results are a prelude to the Fed’s capital-plan review of the same banks scheduled for release on March 14. Yesterday’s results don’t forecast next week’s because the first test excludes management’s plans, a Fed official said yesterday on a conference call with reporters.
Banks have said they were coming into this year’s process more cautious even as investors of the six biggest U.S. lenders were anticipating capital payouts that could total $41 billion.
Goldman Sachs Chief Financial Officer Harvey Schwartz told analysts in January that the firm works closely with regulators to ensure it has a “conservative capital plan.”
JPMorgan scaled back its $15 billion share-buyback program by at least 20 percent and hopes to boost the bank’s 30-cent quarterly dividend, Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon said this year. The bank’s buyback request was about half of last year’s program, the Financial Times reported today, citing unidentified people familiar with the matter. Joe Evangelisti, a company spokesman, declined to comment.
Morgan Stanley CFO Ruth Porat said in January that her firm only requested approval for buying the remaining 35 percent of its brokerage venture from Citigroup Inc.
Not asking for a lot won’t help lenders if the assumptions they use aren’t appropriately cautious, said Richard Bove, a bank analyst with Rafferty Capital Markets LLC.
“Even if they were conservative in their request, the capital plans will be turned down if the assumptions were too aggressive,” Bove said in a phone interview. “The Fed risks looking like it caved to pressure” if it doesn’t reject those plans, he said.
Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley both cited market risk rules under new international capital requirements, which increased risk-weighted assets, as a reason their capital ratios fell in the test.
“We were surprised that the brokers’ capital ratios came so close to the 5 percent minimum requirement, which could limit capital returns,” Brennan Hawken, an analyst at UBS AG, wrote in a research note.
Hawken had estimated that Goldman Sachs would request a $5 billion buyback. That amount would be larger than the firm’s buffer above the 5 percent minimum, he said. Morgan Stanley’s 5.7 percent ratio makes a capital return less likely in the second half of the year, Hawken said.
The banks were hurt by their trading risk, analysts said. The six biggest firms were projected to lose $97 billion on trading in nine quarters through 2014, compared with $116.5 billion in losses estimated in last year’s test, the central bank said. Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan had the most such risk, with the Fed projecting losses of $24.9 billion and $23.5 billion, respectively. JPMorgan said its trading losses would be $17.5 billion.
“It’s a much more volatile business,” said Jennifer Thompson, an analyst at Portales Partners LLC. “In a stressed environment you will have potentially massive losses. The offset should be that they are getting better returns from those businesses. Theoretically, it should all equal out.”
Citigroup, the only U.S. bank among the six biggest to have its capital plan rejected last year, saw its Tier 1 common ratio fall to 8.3 percent under the central bank’s projections. The company sought permission to repurchase $1.2 billion of its shares without seeking a dividend increase, Citigroup said in a presentation after the Fed posted its report.
The planned buyback would “offset estimated dilution created by annual incentive compensation grants,” the New York- based lender said in the presentation.
Since the 2008-2009 financial crisis, U.S. regulators have tried to minimize the odds of another taxpayer rescue, compelling banks to retain some earnings and reinforce their buffers against possible losses. The Fed said the aggregate Tier 1 common capital ratio for the 18 banks would fall from an actual 11.1 percent in the third quarter of 2012 to 7.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 under its scenario.
The Tier 1 common ratio measures a bank’s core equity, made up of common shares and retained earnings, divided by its total assets adjusted for risk using global banking guidelines.
JPMorgan, the biggest U.S. bank, projected that its key capital ratio wouldn’t fall below 7.6 percent, compared with 6.3 percent estimated by the central bank. The lender said pretax losses through 2014 would total $200 million while the Fed said they would be $32.3 billion. JPMorgan also was more optimistic than the Fed in estimating net revenue, loan losses and provisions it would need to cover those losses.
Morgan Stanley estimated its Tier 1 common ratio could fall to as low as 6.7 percent, 1 percentage point higher than the Fed’s projection. The bank’s estimate for net revenue in the stressed period was $5.1 billion higher than the Fed’s.
“Managements probably need to be a little bit more optimistic, the Fed’s a regulator,” Stifel Financial Corp. (SF) CEO Ronald Kruszewski told Matt Miller in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Fast Forward” program. “That’s not unusual.”
The Fed’s minimum projected ratio for Bank of America Corp. (BAC), which didn’t request buybacks or a dividend increase last year, would drop to 6.8 percent in the most adverse scenario while Wells Fargo & Co.’s would be 7 percent.
Losses for the 18 firms, which represent more than 70 percent of the assets in the U.S. banking system, would total $462 billion over nine quarters, according to the Fed.
Under the Fed’s worst-case scenario — where U.S. gross domestic product doesn’t grow or contracts for six straight quarters, unemployment peaks at 12.1 percent and real disposable income falls for five consecutive periods — the 18 companies would lose $316.6 billion on soured loans, led by Bank of America. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based firm would lose $57.5 billion, followed by $54.6 billion for Citigroup and $54 billion each for Wells Fargo and JPMorgan.
Home loans were the largest source with $60.1 billion in projected losses on first mortgages and $37.2 billion on junior liens and home-equity loans. Bank of America would face $24.7 billion in losses, as San Francisco-based Wells Fargo would incur $23.7 billion, the Fed estimated.
The next-largest source of bad debt was credit cards, which the Fed estimated would cost banks $87.1 billion. Citigroup, the world’s biggest credit-card lender, led loss estimates with $23.3 billion. Capital One Financial Corp. (COF), which gets more than half its revenue from credit cards, would lose $16.4 billion. The lender’s own analysis estimated credit card losses at $13.5 billion.
“The stress analysis and underlying assumptions are informed by a number of factors, including our experience in the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession,” McLean, Virginia-based Capital One said in a presentation on its website.
As a share of a company’s loans, Capital One’s portfolio performed worst, with losses amounting to 13.2 percent of its holdings, according to the Fed. That compares with 6.9 percent for Bank of America and 7.7 percent for JPMorgan.
Dimon, 56, expressed confidence about the outcome of the stress test when he spoke to analysts and investors last week.
“Whatever happens, the company will be fine, as long as we can freely compete with everybody else in the world,” Dimon said Feb. 26 at the company’s investor day. “That, to me, is the most important thing of all.”
The following shows how the 18 biggest U.S. banks performed under the Fed’s preliminary stress test results, which didn’t take into consideration new capital proposals. They are ranked by their lowest projected minimum Tier 1 common ratio under the Fed’s severely adverse economic scenario:
Ally Financial Inc. 1.5 Morgan Stanley 5.7 Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) 5.8 JPMorgan Chase & Co. 6.3 Bank of America Corp. 6.8 Wells Fargo & Co. 7.0 SunTrust Banks Inc. 7.3 Capital One Financial Corp. 7.4 Regions Financial Corp. 7.5 KeyCorp 8.0 Citigroup Inc. 8.3 U.S. Bancorp 8.3 Fifth Third Bancorp 8.6 PNC Financial Services Group Inc. 8.7 BB&T Corp. 9.4 American Express Co. 11.1 State Street Corp. 12.8 Bank of New York Mellon Corp. 13.2
(Reuters) – Goldman Sachs Group Inc is trying to work around a financial reform regulation to keep investing in the profitable, albeit risky, business of buying and selling companies, three sources familiar with the new business said over the past week.
The Volcker rule – named for former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law – is expected to limit bank investments in private equity funds, but not necessarily private equity-style investments outside of a formal fund structure.
In a bid to pool money for deals without raising a private equity fund, the Wall Street bank has been lining up clients who are willing to put money into accounts set up to invest in private equity-style deals, the sources said. Goldman would also set aside some of its own money and partner capital into separate accounts for the same purpose, they said.
Under the new plan, Goldman would then make investments in a syndicate fashion, contributing investor money, along with its own capital and partner dollars, the sources said.
That would be different from a traditional private equity fund, where money from various investors has already been pooled together in a formal fund structure.
“It is the same pitch as before, ‘We are putting a lot of our own money in this,'” said a person familiar with Goldman’s marketing of the new business. “They are saying, ‘We are still in this business.'”
The details of the new structure, including whether Goldman would still get fees for managing client money and how profits would be taxed, could not be learned.
Goldman spokeswoman Andrea Raphael said on Monday that the firm is merely taking a strategy used in other investment businesses and applying it to private equity.
“We believe these investments will continue to be important to our clients and the economy, more broadly,” Raphael said. “We will, of course, comply with all aspects of the Volcker rule as it is finalized.”
The Volcker rule aims to limit banks’ exposure to these kinds of investments. The rule, which has not been implemented yet, will allow firms to place up to 3 percent of their Tier 1 capital into private equity funds. It will also prevent them from contributing more than 3 percent of any new private equity funds they raise.
A draft version of the rule appears to allow banks to continue making private equity investments, as long as the investments do not reside in a fund structure.
“It’s not a model of statute writing,” said Dwight Smith, an attorney at Morrison & Foerster who focuses on bank regulation. “In terms of merchant banking and direct investments in portfolio companies as opposed to investing in funds, those are fine and not subject to Volcker at all.”
Some major banks such as Bank of America Corp and Citigroup Inc have been pulling back from private equity investments ahead of the rule. But others, including Goldman and Wells Fargo & Co, are betting that workarounds will help them retain at least some lines of business.
Returns from private equity investments can be high. But they are also risky. The largest leveraged buyout, the $45 billion takeover of Texas utility TXU in 2007, has turned into one of the most spectacular failures of the last decade’s buyout boom. Goldman was part of the private equity consortium that took TXU private. The company is now known as Energy Future Holdings.
Since the financial reform law passed in 2010, Goldman has shut down its proprietary trading desks and outlined plans to gradually wind down its stakes in hedge funds each quarter to prepare for Volcker rule.
But it also gathered a team of lawyers, lobbyists and strategists to devise arguments that would protect as much of its proprietary investing business as possible, sources said.
The central argument that emerged from their effort was that activities like merchant banking and debt investing through credit funds should be exempt from the rule – or parts of it – because they are akin to making loans, the sources said.
Goldman has a long history of successfully raising private equity funds that mix its own capital with money from employees and clients. GS Capital Partners VI, the largest such fund Goldman raised, closed in 2007 with $20.3 billion in assets, 45 percent of which came from the firm and its partners.
Goldman’s private equity assets represented 19 percent of its Tier 1 capital at year-end, though it is not clear how much of those assets are tied up in funds.
Goldman partner capital is also invested in other types of investment vehicles, such as credit funds, and the firm has been trying to make sure they are exempt from Volcker restrictions as well.
In a February 2012 meeting with the Federal Reserve, for example, Goldman executives argued that credit funds should not be subject to Volcker restrictions because investors typically require a 5 percent “skin in the game” from sponsors.
Goldman’s private equity and merchant banking businesses are large and lucrative, and hold a sizable portion of the personal wealth of senior Goldman executives, including Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein, one of the sources said.
Goldman is betting that its investments not tied up in funds will be protected from Volcker rule.
Members of Goldman’s regulatory reform group — overseen by Harvey Schwartz, who is now chief financial officer, and John Rogers, who is chief of staff — have given presentations to regulators about potential pitfalls of Volcker, and tried to educate the Fed and other regulators on the best way to write the rule, sources have said.
One source who attended meetings with regulators said that officials seemed receptive to Goldman’s arguments, but cautioned that they worried about banks becoming overexposed to risks in private equity investing.
NEW PRIVATE EQUITY
It is unclear when the final Volcker rule, which had been scheduled for July 2012, will be unveiled. It may not be fully implemented for years to come.
In the meantime, a group of Goldman bankers, in the merchant banking division headed by Richard Friedman, have been pitching clients on the new way of co-investing in private equity deals with the firm.
Tanya Barnes, a newly minted managing director, is one person working on the project, sources said. Barnes has a background in distressed debt investments and previously worked in Goldman’s Special Situations Group.
The firm has been upping its marketing game to persuade clients that the deals are worth their time, even though they are not in a traditional fund, one of the sources said.
Smith, the attorney, said banks may still be required to reduce exposure to the merchant banking business.
“The Federal Reserve has this inherent authority to tell banks not to do things even though it’s technically legal for them to do so,” he said. “The Fed could look at a bank’s array of merchant banking activities and just say, ‘Look, that’s too much, even though you haven’t triggered the Tier 1 capital limitation.'”
(Reporting By Lauren Tara LaCapra and Jessica Toonkel; Editing by Paritosh Bansal and David Gregorio)