Goldman top brass oversaw mortgage unit

Goldman top brass oversaw mortgage unit

 Gary Cohn (left) & Lloyd Blankfein

One camp of traders was insisting that the American housing market was safe. Another thought it was poised for collapse. Among those who saw disaster looming were an effusive young Frenchman, Fabrice P Tourre, and his quiet colleague, Jonathan M Egol, mastermind behind a series of mortgage deals known as the Abacus investments.
Their elite mortgage unit is now at the centre of allegations that Goldman and Tourre, 31, defrauded investors with one of those complex deals.

The Securities & Exchange Commission filed a civil fraud suit on Friday that essentially says that Goldman built the financial equivalent of a time bomb and then sold it to unwitting investors. Egol, 40, was not named in the SEC’s suit.

Goldman has vowed to fight the SEC. But the allegations have left many on Wall Street wondering how far the investigation might spread inside Goldman and perhaps beyond.
Pressure on Goldman mounted on Sunday as two members of Congress and Gordon Brown, Britain’s prime minister, called for investigations into the bank’s role in the mortgage market. Germany also said it was considering legal action against the bank.
Tourre was the only person named in the SEC suit. But according to interviews with eight former Goldman employees, senior bank executives played a pivotal role in overseeing the mortgage unit just as the housing market began to go south. These people spoke on the condition that they not be named so as not to jeopardize business relationships or to anger executives at Goldman, viewed as the most powerful bank on Wall Street.

Positive bets
According to these people, executives up to and including Lloyd C Blankfein, Chairman & Chief Executive, took an active role in overseeing the mortgage unit as the tremors in the housing d the dispute on the mortga through the nation’s economy. It was Goldman’s top leadership, these people say, that finally ended the dispute on the mortgage desk by siding with those who, like Tourre and Egol, believed home prices would decline.
Lucas van Praag, a Goldman spokesman, said that senior executives were not involved in approving the Abacus deals. He said that the executives had sought to balance Goldman’s positive bets on the mortgage market, rather than take an overall negative view. Tourre, who now works for Goldman in London, declined to comment, as did Egol, van Praag said.

Mortgage specialists like those at Goldman were, in a sense, the mad scientists of the subprime era. They devised investments by bundling together bonds backed by home loans, a process that enabled mortgage lenders to make even more loans.  While this sort of financing helped make loans available, the most exotic creations also spread the growing risks inside the American housing market throughout the financial world. When the boom went bust, the results were disastrous.

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