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Interesting article on Goldman Sachs’ “luck” in escaping unscathed from the sub-prime mortgage mess:
Goldman’s good fortune cannot be explained by luck alone. Late last year, as the markets roared along, David A. Viniar, Goldman’s chief financial officer, called a “mortgage risk” meeting in his meticulous 30th-floor office in Lower Manhattan.
At that point, the holdings of Goldman’s mortgage desk were down somewhat, but the notoriously nervous Mr. Viniar was worried about bigger problems. After reviewing the full portfolio with other executives, his message was clear: the bank should reduce its stockpile of mortgages and mortgage-related securities and buy expensive insurance as protection against further losses, a person briefed on the meeting said.
The article fails to mention that Goldman Sachs (GS) is Wall Street. They might as well own it outright. And now they’re making inroads into government where policy and oversight reside. They don’t play the game, they are the game.
But in the end, even if you practically own the place, risk and its management is the real game:
At Goldman, the controller’s office — the group responsible for valuing the firm’s huge positions — has 1,100 people, including 20 Ph.D.’s. If there is a dispute, the controller is always deemed right unless the trading desk can make a convincing case for an alternate valuation. The bank says risk managers swap jobs with traders and bankers over a career and can be paid the same multimillion-dollar salaries as investment bankers.
One of my favourite market axioms is “Discipline over conviction.” There is no point in risking ruin when you don’t have to. Coming back to play another day is a prime victory. Had Niederhoffer hired one or two risk controllers, he wouldn’t have blown up (again).
This graph tells the whole story:
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