I was intrigued by the Senate Investigations Subcommittee questioning of key Goldman Sachs Executives. In fact, I was so interested that I watched hour upon hour of the proceedings. To be completely honest, I really wanted to support the committee. After all, they were the people in the proverbial white hats. They were standing up for the many people who had lost their homes, jobs and money during the meltdown of 2007-2008.
However, it quickly became clear that the Senators were intellectually out-gunned. They seemed to have little beyond rhetoric and clichés to throw at Goldman. Sure, there were some embarrassing email quotes and profanities that were played repeatedly in the media, but where was the substance? Maybe a definition of what a Market Principal or a Proprietary Trader actually means would have helped the Senators? It definitely would have shortened the hours of questioning about the ethics of Goldman being short a security that they had sold to a client. For me though, the most awkward exchange was when former Goldman Managing Director, Joshua Birnbaum was asked why he didn’t share his personal concerns about the property market with his clients. Birnbaum’s answer:“I think using publicly available information to trade publicly traded securities is OK,” didn’t really seem to sink in. The end of the questioning was a lot like a heavyweight boxing match, with a tired fighter wildly swinging punches, desperately hoping to land the knock-out blow.
The issue of transparency was referenced many times during the session and is also mentioned more than a dozen times in the proposed Dodd Financial Reform Bill. Bringing transparency to these previously opaque and mysterious markets should be a top priority for all concerned.
However, I find it surprising that during the hearing not one question was asked about the pricing of these trades or the ongoing valuation of these securities. It seems to me that if your objective is to bring transparency and openness to these markets, then the use of independent pricing should be enforced.
The rules could go even further and ensure that the pricing methodology itself is also disclosed. What better way to protect the investor than for them to know that pricing and valuations are supplied by a third party, independent company?