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Financial Crisis Commission Turns Up Heat On Goldman Sachs: 'Nobody Here Believes You'

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The panel created to investigate the roots of the financial crisis escalated the government's assault on Goldman Sachs on Thursday, criticizing the Wall Street firm for failing to turn over basic documents and accusing it nearly lying under oath.

For a second consecutive day, the bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission reiterated its request for additional data from Goldman, namely figures regarding the firm's derivatives activities. And for a second consecutive day, Goldman's top executives demurred.

"We generally do not have a derivatives business," David Viniar, Goldman's chief financial officer, told the panel Thursday under oath.

Goldman Sachs holds more than $49 trillion in notional derivatives contracts, making it the third-largest derivatives dealer among U.S. banks, according to first quarter figures from national bank regulator the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The commission has found that Goldman is a party to more than 1 million different derivatives contracts, Commissioner Brooksley Born disclosed Thursday.

"We don't separate out derivatives and cash businesses," Viniar clarified under questioning. The derivatives units are "integrated" into the firm's cash businesses, making it difficult for the firm to isolate its derivatives data, he said.

In January, the panel asked Goldman chairman and chief executive Lloyd C. Blankfein for a breakdown of the firm's revenues and profits from its derivatives activities. He said the firm would comply. The commission reiterated that request Wednesday and Thursday.

Viniar said the firm doesn't "keep" records outlining its revenues from its derivatives dealing.

"I am very skeptical that you can't measure these revenues and profits," Born told Viniar. "I urge you to provide us with this information. It's been about six months we've been asking for it... and it makes one wonder also why Goldman has the incentive or impetus not to reveal this information.

"You're suggesting you don't give it to your regulators. You don't put it in your financial reports... so you don't give it to the market... [or to your counterparties]," Born continued. "And you're refusing to give it to us. I hope very much that we will see this very shortly."

Viniar took exception to that last comment.

"Commissioner, again, we're not refusing anything," Goldman's chief financial officer said. "We don't have a separate derivatives business."

Viniar then said that Goldman isn't alone in not breaking out its derivatives-specific revenues and profits.

Born quickly shot back.

"They don't," Born, the nation's former top derivatives regulator, conceded. "But some other firms have provided us with that data when we've asked for it, and Goldman Sachs hasn't."

Phil Angelides, the panel's chairman, could barely contain his incredulousness.

"Are you telling me you have no system at your company that tracks revenues or assets of contracts, and liabilities and payments under contracts?" Angelides asked. "You have no management reports, no financial reports that track these contracts?"

"I've never seen one," Viniar responded. Pressed further, Viniar added that the firm doesn't track these things because it's "not meaningful."

Viniar again was asked to provide the data.

Later on, Byron Georgiou, another commissioner, reiterated the panel's request for information pertaining to Goldman's contracts with AIG. Goldman "aggressively" demanded increasing amounts of collateral from the insurer beginning in 2007 to cover what it perceived as the deteriorating value of those contracts' underlying securities, Angelides said.

Goldman may have marked those securities at a lower value than what it marked comparable securities for its own clients. In other words, it may have undervalued securities from AIG in order to get more cash while overvaluing them when dealing with other counterparties in order to hold on to its own cash.

The panel has asked for that data. Goldman has not handed it over.

"When you tell us that you don't know how much you make in your derivatives business, nobody here really believes it," Georgiou said. "It's crazy. It doesn't make any sense. Goldman Sachs is, if not the most sophisticated investment bank, certainly one of the most sophisticated investment banks in the world -- and nobody here believes you don't know how much money you're making on various aspects of your business. It doesn't make any sense."

Georgiou then asked for a specific breakdown of what Goldman paid AIG to insure specific securities, and what Goldman charged its own clients for the same protection. That insurance came in the form of credit default swaps, which are derivative contracts that act like insurance against default. Georgiou wants to know the premium, if any, Goldman received. It's not the first time the panel has asked for this information.

Viniar said he'd provide the data.

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