Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Goldman to Blame Somewhat? Banks Given Preference in Bailout...


At the end of the American International Group’s annual meeting last month, a shareholder approached the microphone with a question for Robert Benmosche, the insurer’s chief executive.

“I’d like to know, what does A.I.G. plan to do with Goldman Sachs?” he asked. “Are you going to get — recoup — some of our money that was given to them?”

Mr. Benmosche, steward of an insurer brought to its knees two years ago after making too many risky, outsize financial bets and paying billions of dollars in claims to Goldman and other banks, said he would continue evaluating his legal options. But, in reality, A.I.G. has precious few.

When the government began rescuing it from collapse in the fall of 2008 with what has become a $182 billion lifeline, A.I.G. was required to forfeit its right to sue several banks — including Goldman, Société Générale, Deutsche Bank and Merrill Lynch — over any irregularities with most of the mortgage securities it insured in the precrisis years.

But after the Securities and Exchange Commission’s civil fraud suit filed in April against Goldman for possibly misrepresenting a mortgage deal to investors, A.I.G. executives and shareholders are asking whether A.I.G. may have been misled by Goldman into insuring mortgage deals that the bank and others may have known were flawed.

This month, an Australian hedge fund sued Goldman on similar grounds. Goldman is contesting the suit and denies any wrongdoing. A spokesman for A.I.G. declined to comment about any plans to sue Goldman or any other banks with which it worked. A Goldman spokesman said that his firm believed that “all aspects of our relationship with A.I.G. were appropriate.”

A Legal Waiver

Unknown outside of a few Wall Street legal departments, the A.I.G. waiver was released last month by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform amid 250,000 pages of largely undisclosed documents. The documents, reviewed by The New York Times, provide the most comprehensive public record of how the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Treasury Department orchestrated one of the biggest corporate bailouts in history.

The documents also indicate that regulators ignored recommendations from their own advisers to force the banks to accept losses on their A.I.G. deals and instead paid the banks in full for the contracts. That decision, say critics of the A.I.G. bailout, has cost taxpayers billions of extra dollars in payments to the banks. It also contrasts with the hard line the White House took in 2008 when it forced Chrysler’s lenders to take losses when the government bailed out the auto giant.

As a Congressional commission convenes hearings Wednesday exploring the A.I.G. bailout and Goldman’s relationship with the insurer, analysts say that the documents suggest that regulators were overly punitive toward A.I.G. and overly forgiving of banks during the bailout — signified, they say, by the fact that the legal waiver undermined A.I.G. and its shareholders’ ability to recover damages.

“Even if it turns out that it would be a hard suit to win, just the gesture of requiring A.I.G. to scrap its ability to sue is outrageous,” said David Skeel, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “The defense may be that the banking system was in trouble, and we couldn’t afford to destabilize it anymore, but that just strikes me as really going overboard.”

“This really suggests they had myopia and they were looking at it entirely through the perspective of the banks,” Mr. Skeel said.

This month, the Congressional Oversight Panel, a body charged with reviewing the state of financial markets and the regulators that monitor them, published a 337-page report on the A.I.G. bailout. It concluded that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York did not give enough consideration to alternatives before sinking more and more taxpayer money into A.I.G. “It is hard to escape the conclusion that F.R.B.N.Y. was just ‘going through the motions,’ ” the report said.

About $46 billion of the taxpayer money in the A.I.G. bailout was used to pay to mortgage trading partners like Goldman and Société Générale, a French bank, to make good on their claims. The banks are not expected to return any of that money, leading the Congressional Research Service to say in March that much of the taxpayer money ultimately bailed out the banks, not A.I.G.

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