Why Goldman's Anti-Client Betting Probably Doesn't Matter

Just as CEO Lloyd Blankfein is named FT's Man of the Year, biz bloggers pour water on a non-scandal

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Let's start with the good news: Goldman Sachs's CEO Lloyd Blankfein has been named the Man of the Year by the Financial Times--the world's leading salmon-colored business broadsheet. It's slighly surprising given that Blankfein was teased for joking that his loathed firm did "God's work," but that was a tiny blunder compared to overseeing the firm's head-snapping return to record-profits.

Now for the apparently bad news. Months ago, Goldman Sachs was accused of gladly selling bundles of garbagey mortgage-related investments, while betting internally that they would fall. Now they're under investigation for trying to nudge clients toward the riskiest--and ultimately weakest--investments. So is this the bombshell it seems to be? Has the vague resentment of Goldman's good luck finally turned into a concrete misdeed? Many business bloggers say "No." (Goldman releases a statement saying the same--read here.) Here's why they think the scandal's overblown.

  • This Is What Traders Do, writes Felix Salmon at Reuters. Salmon is no friend to Goldman Sachs, but he defends the practice as common sense. In fact, for years Goldman lost of its bets against the mortgage-backed securities. "If I sell you something - whether it's a car or a house or a stock or a ham sandwich - I have no fiduciary responsibility to you. Caveat emptor, and all that...The real lesson here isn't that Goldman did anything scandalous. It's just that if you're making a bet and Goldman is your bookmaker, don't be surprised if you end up losing."
  • Odd to Release the Story on Xmas Eve, notes Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism. Smith applauds the article for highlighting the danger of the derivatives, but says it is "good yet odd." The timing of the 24th strikes her as strange: "The New York Times is running this as a front page story, but on one of the slowest business days of the year, which means it may have less impact than it should. Design or an accident of timing?"
  • Only a Scandal if Goldman Withheld Info, writes Henry Blodget at Business Insider. He says that if you see Wall Street the old-fashioned way, then it's fair to see Goldman's tactics as scandalous, but that nowadays that kind of betting is mundane. He outlines the possibilities: "If Goldman's traders and salespeople had secret information about the housing market that they did not share with clients, yes, it's a scandal. That's called intentionally screwing your clients, and Goldman deserves to be strafed for it. If Goldman was merely creating products to address market demand and then using those products itself, however, it's inevitable."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.