It's Thursday, so Goldman Sachs raked in billions with taxpayer help while you're still unemployed. The bank announced $3.1 billion in third-quarter profits today, and set aside $5.3 billion for bonuses. Help us find out how they spend it.
Goldman's third-quarter take is down slightly from its record-breaking $3.4 billion second-quarter earnings, and the amount set aside for bonuses declined by roughly 20%. But so far this year, the firm has socked away $16.7 billion to compensate its young masters of the universe, and analysts believe that before the year is over Goldman will skim $23 billion off the top to keep its employees preposterously rich.
Bully for them. The downside of Goldman's remarkable resurgence in the wake of the near-collapse of the financial system is that you financed it. There was the $10 billion in TARP funds Goldman got last fall—it's since been repaid to the feds with interest, but that's probably little consolation for people who couldn't get a loan in the past year to buy a house or a car last fall despite excellent credit and documented income. There was the $13 billion pass-through bailout from AIG, wherein the taxpayer funds ostensibly directed to prop up AIG were simply forwarded to Goldman and other banks that had purchased insurance from AIG in the form of credit-default swaps on their bad investments. The AIG bailout is particularly noxious in light of an op-ed Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein wrote in the Financial Times earlier this week (in a clear bid to prebut an avalanche of anti-bankster rage at today's results): "An institution's assets must also be valued at their fair market value—the price at which willing buyers and sellers transact—not at the (frequently irrelevant) historic value." The irrelevant historic value of Goldman's credit-default contracts with AIG was $13 billion. The fair market value was whatever a hemorrhaging AIG could afford to pay. But instead of getting pennies on the dollar in bankruptcy proceedings, Goldman got the federal government to spend your money to pay them off in full. Fair-market-value for me, but not for thee.
The other ways in which Goldman has benefited—in many instances uniquely—from the federal intervention into the financial industry have been illustratively rehearsed by Matt Taibbi: Banks that want to repay TARP money are forced by the feds to raise capital, and Goldman is there to underwrite the debt and equity offerings at a reasonable 7% commission. It has access to low-cost FDIC-backed debt through the Temporary Loan Guarantee Program, saving it an estimated $600 million per year. It has access to the Fed's discount window, where it can borrow money a .5% interest. Our credit card company charges us 13%, and we didn't lose $2 billion in the fourth quarter of last year, as Goldman did.
All of this is quite objectionable. But what makes it eye-stabbingly, brain-searingly blood-boiling is the fact that Goldman's employees are personally reaping the benefits of these subsidies to the tune of an average of $700,000 per staffer. Being unjustifiably wealthy in boom times is not enough—when market forces of their own creation brought their company low, they turned to the taxpayers both to rescue the firm and prop up their obscenely acquisitive lifestyles.
Blankfein pronounced that Financial Times op-ed that "to avoid crises, we need more transparency." We agree. What we'd like to render transparent is the precise ways in which people fortunate or connected enough to be employed by Goldman Sachs are deploying the $23 billion in windfall bonuses that they've managed to skim off the top of a massive taxpayer-financed bailout of their firm. Oddly, Blankfein doesn't seem to value transparency when its directed at his own employees—he's made clear that he wants Goldmanites to keep their lavish discretionary spending to a minimum for fear of enraging the people who made it possible until this whole thing blows over. At the same time, he's floating the idea of making a $1 billion-plus charitable donation as public penance for the aforementioned sins. Why not all $23 billion, Lloyd? You didn't earn it, right? And if you did earn it, why would you attempt to shame your employees into not spending it?
To facilitate Blankfein's call for transparency, we're launching the Goldman Project, an ongoing attempt to track and publicize the multi-million second homes, $50,000 cars, $500 bottles of wine, and ostentatious living that we are subsidizing. And we need your help: Are you Facebook friends with a Goldmanite who just posted photos of his lavish bachelor party? Post them to our fancy new tag page, #GoldmanProject, or e-mail them to us. Are you a realtor who just sold a $4 million duplex a Goldman banker? Is your ex-boyfriend Goldman banker planning a year-end trip to Cabo to blow his bonus wad? Shoot us an e-mail. Likewise, if you catch any references to Goldman employees living large in the media, post them to #GoldmanProject to keep a running clipfile. And if you know anything about why Goldman made so much from its fixed-income, currency and commodity trading division in the past two quarters—a phenomenon about which one analyst told Bloomberg, "A lot of us struggle with just the size of the FICC line and understanding exactly how they make as much money as they do"—posit your theory at #GoldmanProject. Seems interesting that Goldman made a killing on currency trading at a time when dollar is plummeting.
To get you started, here's what Goldman chief financial officer David Viniar's $24 million second home in Carpinteria, Calif., looks like via Google Maps:
Looks nice! Viniar forfeited his bonus last year out of some misplaced sense of propriety. We wonder if he'll partake in December or early next year, when the 2009 bonuses will be distributed.
Viniar is a big fish at Goldman, but there are all sorts of emerging stars—like 40-year-old Michael Swenson, the trader who made Goldman billions by betting that the subprime lending market would collapse, thereby allowing the firm to profit doubly from the calamity, both directly and through the government's efforts to mitigate it—that we intend to learn more about. Here's a list of Goldman's managing directors, and here's a smaller list of the most recent batch to be named—guaranteed to contain a bunch of eager young comers just dying to make a killing and spend it like gangsters. So have a look and run some names if you're feeling mischievous, and let us know what you find. We'll be looking, too.
If this sounds like a creepy exercise in crowd-sourced surveillance to you, understand that we're not looking interested in digging up private details about private citizens. We just want to catalog how are tax dollars have been spent, and see where $23 billion goes. If Goldman's employees earned those bonuses, they should spend them with pride. Own it.