Saturday, April 17, 2010

Analysis: SEC vs. Goldman

The civil fraud charges filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission Friday accused Goldman Sachs of "defrauding investors by misstating and omitting key facts". These financial charges also mark a new era of government regulatory enforcement of Wall Street. No longer will the SEC simply come to consent decrees with financial firms where they do not admit guilt and in most cases pay a small fine viewed as a cost of doing illegal business.

One immediate question is how do the SEC charges filed against Goldman Sachs change the playing field? Do these charges even mean anything in a broader regulatory context? In my opinion, the actions from the SEC on Friday defines a new playing field by Washington marked with the following game-changing alterations:

a) A broader effort to get the derivatives market properly regulated to minimize the possibility of future meltdowns.
b) The Goldman Sachs charges are expected to be the first of a lengthy string of government actions against multiple firms that contributed to the financial meltdown. The lack of accountability by firms which accepted bailouts is no longer acceptable to main street and their representatives in Washington.
c) A dismantling by regulation of firms that are "too big to fail"; including the scaling back of previous government legislation that allowed the merger of commercial and investment banks.
d) The teeth of the SEC are back in place. For the last twenty years the SEC has been a toothless enforcement entity; forcing state AGs to take a leading prosecution role in financial malfeasance. This is likely to be the start of a change where the federal government will have deep roots in the policing of problems involving large financial firms.

The roll out of these regulatory reforms are expected to take years; however as noted by an AFP news article "We suspect that after Friday, others on Wall Street may have a harder time sleeping."

Another good clip is Ratigan on MSNBC where he compares Goldman Sachs to an automobile manufacturing company that deliberately took critical component from the inside of cars (CDOs) and then sold the cars as being great investments while betting on the side that the cars they created would all blow up spectacularly. An apt analogy - watch it here.