The Financial Crisis Commission Doesn't Understand Finance

More

Today I'm watching the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission hearing. So far, it's been troubling. Its leader Phil Angelides starts his questioning with Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. It's pretty clear that Angelides simply doesn't understand how finance works. That's not a good indicator for anything productive coming out of this commission.Angelides's first line of questioning had to do with the much written about story where Goldman Sachs sold products to investors that it held a negative view of. In other words, its customer bought a security that says A will go up, and Goldman held an opposing security that said A would go down. This sounds really bad if you don't understand finance.

But if you do understand finance, then you know it's a zero-sum game. You can't make a bet for something unless someone else makes a bet against something. As a market maker, Goldman creates these bets. In some cases, it sells both sides. In other cases, it holds one side of the bet. That's literally its business as a principal.

So when Angelides uses an analogy like, "It sounds to me like you're selling someone a car with faulty brakes and then buying an insurance policy on that car that pays you when it crashes," he's demonstrating that he really doesn't understand something very fundamental about finance. You can't be a market maker without sometimes holding a security interest in opposition to the performance of the securities that you sell to investors. And if there's investor demand for that security, then it's insane to blame a bank for capitalizing on that demand, no matter what its view of the performance of that security. Unless Goldman is doing something to influence the performance of the securities its sells -- and it isn't as far as we know -- then it's crazy to hold it accountable for investors making bad bets in buying the products it sells.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Daniel Indiviglio was an associate editor at The Atlantic from 2009 through 2011. He is now the Washington, D.C.-based columnist for Reuters Breakingviews. He is also a 2011 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow through the Phillips Foundation. More

Indiviglio has also written for Forbes. Prior to becoming a journalist, he spent several years working as an investment banker and a consultant.
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to a Seaside Town in Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where the Wild Things Go

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Adults Need Playtime Too

When was the last time you played your favorite childhood game?

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In