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Goldman Sells Off Servicing Unit

Goldman Sachs logo with bag of gold by watertiger

(image: watertiger)

I know it’s hard to believe, but Goldman Sachs is in some trouble. They may not ultimately see indictments of their executives or massive forced payouts of a large chunk of their profits. But the well-researched, well-described Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report, which partially covered Goldman’s lies to their clients and to Congress, could have serious consequences for the firm. For one, the SPSCI report (i.e. the Levin report, named after the chairman of the committee, Carl Levin) has already led to Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr. requesting documents from Goldman. The legal costs alone in defending itself could be significant; US regulators received a figure from Goldman on this front. Goldman spent at least $1.25 billion on legal issues just last year. And the reputational risk is legitimate; bank stocks are falling and bargain hunters want no part of them as the negative headlines continue to mount, with the Manhattan DA query, added to investigations by the SEC, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, the Justice Department and the New York Attorney General, fell in with these negative assessments.

This is all taking a chunk out of Goldman’s reputation and potentially their profits. So they plan to fight back.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc., trying to counter a Senate subcommittee report that is fueling investigations and suspicion of the firm, plans to accuse the subcommittee of drastically overstating Goldman’s bets against the housing market in 2007, people familiar with the situation said.

The securities firm is considering releasing documents about its mortgage bets that are aimed at showing what Goldman officials claim is sloppy math and incomplete analysis by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations as the panel sifted through tens of millions of documents turned over by Goldman.

The information might be released soon on Goldman’s website, though a decision hasn’t been made yet. Even if the documents aren’t made public, they could be used by Goldman to defend itself in ongoing investigations that appear to be linked to the Senate subcommittee’s report.

Clearly Goldman doesn’t want to disclose these bets at all, or they would have done so already. But the damage from the Levin report may trump official corporate secrecy. Somehow, I would have less trust in Goldman’s spinning of the numbers than the Senate investigators, which nailed down the subject pretty thoroughly in their report.

I’m not sure how Goldman could convince through numbers or anything else that they weren’t engaged in a big short against the housing market in 2006 and 2007, given not only the public documents, emails and reports showing the opposite, but the simple fact of their profits during this period, which clearly show how far out ahead of their competitors they were on this. Coming in with a flood of new documents is merely designed to muddy the waters in a case so clear that Goldman execs were high-fiving each other over it throughout this period.

Anyway, I welcome this new era of openness and transparency at Goldman. Hopefully they will show the same deference in document requests to the Manhattan DA and New York Attorney General.

CommunityThe Bullpen

Goldman Sells Off Servicing Unit

I don’t know how Goldman Sachs managed this one, but they somehow got Ocwen to buy their mortgage servicing unit, despite multiple investigations into its conduct.

Goldman Sachs has agreed to sell its Litton Loan mortgage servicing division to Ocwen Financial for $263.7m, in a deal that will end the bank’s shortlived but eventful foray into the business of collecting on home loans and foreclosing on delinquent borrowers.

Ocwen, a Florida-based mortgage servicing group, will also pay $337.4m to retire a portion of debt that Litton owes a Goldman affiliate and provide Litton with $2.47bn in advances.

So not only is Ocwen taking Litton Loans off of Goldman’s hands, they’re floating billions of dollars in extra financing for the privilege. They have to take a loan from Barclays to get the deal done.

Now, Goldman actually lost money on this deal. They paid $430 million for Litton Loans just four years ago, and spent a good deal of money upgrading its systems. But the liability they incurred through engaging in similar servicing practices as the rest of the industry put Goldman on the hook for far bigger losses down the road. The NY Fed just opened an investigation into Litton over denying HAMP modifications to qualified borrowers. Yet Ocwen essentially bailed them out. Goldman will pay any fines incurred from future investigations prior to the Ocwen sale, but these are likely to be minimal in nature.

If a cat has nine lives, Goldman must have an entire litter.

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David Dayen

David Dayen