Goldman will take the SEC's fine out of petty cash

07/16/2010 12:57 pm EST


Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor,

It’s not even a slap on the wrist. The $550 million fine agreed to by Goldman Sachs (GS) as part of its settlement with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) amounts to roughly a week’s worth of trading revenue for Goldman.

Considering that the SEC put the damages to Goldman’s investors in the Abacus CDO (credit default obligation) deal, $550 million seems a bit light. Considering Goldman’s role in forcing American International Group into a government bailout, $550 million seems inadequate. Considering Goldman’s role as a key enabler of the derivative deals that almost took down the global financial system, $550 million seems laughable.

And, of course, as is usual in this kind of settlement, Goldman didn’t admit or deny the charges. That should help Goldman defend itself in any civil suits brought by investors who are looking for more than the $250 million of the fine that will go to two of the investors in the deal. By the way, in the settlement the SEC appears to have retreated from its original charge of civil fraud to a charge that reads more like negligence. According to the SEC, Goldman’s marketing materials for the Abacus deal “contained incomplete information.”

The SEC charge and the July 15 settlement may hurt Goldman with future clients. After all the central revelation from the investigation into the Abacus deal was the degree to which Goldman was willing to subordinate the interests of some clients to the company’s own self interest.

So far it’s not apparent that there’s been any sizeable defection among Goldman’s clients although it is difficult to tell since no customer is likely to trumpet that defection from the roof tops of Wall Street.

The bigger problem for Goldman may be that on early reports from JPMorgan Chase (JPM) there’s a Wall-Street-wide slow down in trading and investment banking revenue. At JPMorgan Chase net income from investment banking, for example, fell by 6% from the second quarter of 2009.
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