Category Archives: Goldman Sachs

Q&A With The Global Journal: Oil Trading And The Casino Syndrome

Happy National Pancake/Leap Year/Week before Super Tuesday Day, all. It has been a turbulent past few months and not just in the oil market. I will get into why very shortly but, for now, let’s just say that after a long and dark winter, I am once again available for dancing in the streets. Without any further cryptic remarks, I’d like to share an interview I just did with The Global Journal, based in Geneva, which rang me up to discuss ‘The Asylum’ and what the future holds for the energy market and gas prices during this, our illustrious Election Year.

(Q portions courtesy of Janine Huguenin-Virchaux, the magazine’s books and culture editor.)

Your book mentions that “the market is no longer reflecting supply and demand.” What is the use of a market that does not reflect the true price of oil? Do we need new hijackers?

That’s a great question – do we need new hijackers? If we could get some hijackers that could take back the market so that it does reflect supply and demand more clearly, then I would say yes, we do! However, I would also say that there is a serious debate going on about the extent to which price does reflect supply and demand. I think there is very good reason to believe that the price does not reflect it anymore. There is also a very technical reason for what has been going on that has not really been acknowledged or understood by many people. And that is the relationship between speculation and price discovery. A lot of the information that I get is from people who read the book and then they come to me and bring me stuff that nobody seems to really know about.

A lot of these guys are just regular traders who trade physical oil and feel that supply and demand is not reflected in the price correctly anymore. Whereas their entire lives – some of these men and women have been trading oil for thirty years or more – they feel the price did reflect it. So they believe there’s a huge difference in what they are seeing today in terms of the market fundamentals versus the price. And what they used to do was see price and fundamentals fit together better. They see a lot of distortion happening now. A lot of these people are concerned with that. I want to say, it’s not all about making money for these people: some of them look at this and say “Oh my God, it’s not acting the way it used to anymore and it doesn’t look like it’s headed anywhere good.” And that is aside from the fact that trading has become so ferocious that it is more about preserving a global casino than about supplying oil to people who need it.

That’s the problem. The casino aspect overshadows everything. Most of the people who play this game don’t want oil. They just want to play the game.

What is the alternative? I mean, these are the people who are speculating on the price of oil. Is there anything that can change to make it different? To make it less casino-like?

Yes, I think so. I am considering writing about this much more, the nature of speculation… Continue reading Q&A With The Global Journal: Oil Trading And The Casino Syndrome

How To Make Someone Else Swallow Your Losses, The Mastercourse

It’s official: when a Wall Street powerhouse suddenly collapses and (possibly) more than a billion dollars goes missing, it’s no longer just the ordinary taxpayer’s problem. Now, it has moved up the chain. Below, the piece I wrote today for Fortune on what traders do when you misappropriate their money.

While Occupy Wall Street was holding its two-month anniversary rally in Manhattan last week, traders were quietly mounting a rather more sophisticated version of OWS on their own. Call it Occupy Wall Street Bankruptcy Court.

FORTUNE — Big institutional investors are getting a taste of what many frustrated taxpayers experienced during the financial crisis: Being on the hook for losses of a major financial firm against their wishes.

This time, of course, it’s MF Global at the center of the dispute. A once-trusted brokerage with roots dating back to the 1700s, MF Global is now a bankrupt firm suspected of misappropriating customer funds to the tune of at least $600 million.

More than two weeks after MF Global’s Halloween bankruptcy filing, there are more questions than answers and a surfeit of conflicts in an investigation that should be aiming to restore the public’s confidence, but is doing the opposite. On Monday, the bankruptcy trustee for the case announced that there may be much more than $600 million missing from MF Global accounts — perhaps as much as $1.2 billion.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of trading capital and collateral were frozen without notice, dramatically disrupting the derivatives marketplace and ushering in a phalanx of federal prosecutors, regulatory agencies and forensic accountants working around the clock to determine where the missing money is. This, after a lawyer for MF Global assured a New York judge earlier this month “there is no shortfall.”

What’s different about this case?  One hedge fund executive summed it up best: “What is scary about MF Global is that there is no political will in this country to look out for people. Let this be a lesson that, if someone tries to steal from you, there is no one who is going to save you. I mean it is literally the most frightening thing that can happen in finance.”

Led by a sense of outrage — as well as the conviction that if they don’t look out for themselves, no one else will — investors have been pooling information and banding together to defend themselves for weeks. Continue reading How To Make Someone Else Swallow Your Losses, The Mastercourse

A Certain Stylishness In Hating The Rich

In Marie Antoinette's days, the guillotine was called the 'National Razor.'

Our national discourse on the nature of wealth has been a good cure for sanity of late.

News that a book coming out from the surviving son of Bernard Madoff, mastermind of the largest Ponzi scheme in history, elicited comments from readers that could be called anything but charitable. Alongside an interview with Madoff’s wife, Ruth, whose picture speaks volumes about the toll the scandal has taken on her life — not in the least the suicide of her other son — are comments that plainly show how bitter the feud has become between the rich and the working class in our country. In response to Ruth’s claims of not knowing of her husband’s illegal financial dealings, readers wrote:

“What a bunch of lies. Anyone in the industry knows that the returns had to be made up…the sons knew it, the wife knew it, everyone knew it.”

“I do not think Ruth knew, but she strikes me as remarkably incurious and shallow.”

And:

“This is a woman who married at 18 and never took responsibility for her own financial security. True, she raised their children but she chose to ignore the choices made by her husband.  Now she claims to be a victim. I am sorry but I do not buy this. She chose to remain ignorant.”

Overlooked was this part of the interview, in which Ruth Madoff discusses falling in love with her husband, as it would inevitably inspire some modicum of humanity.

Aside from Madoff-venting, the debates rage about the solutions. At Occupy Wall Street, which I visited last week, you have, on the one hand, a number of concerned Americans questioning — or outright decrying — capitalism in all its trappings. They suggest that the only solution is to raze and rebuild the entire political and financial system.

Unfortunately, they are still experimenting with new models to offer in its place.

On the other, you have national leaders quick to denounce the financial crisis, but just as quick to vote down any new rules aiming to prevent a financial crisis in the future.

Two G-Men (Goldman, that is): Obama and Corzine wave for the crowd

Already, we are seeing the results of this splintering of the populace: we remain effectively paralyzed to redress our own fragility, forced to lurch from one crisis to the next. Large financial powerhouses continue to fail spectacularly as the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Securities and Exchange Commission and a smattering of other government agencies struggle to keep up with reports of unchecked theft, negligence and fraud amid budget cuts frequently meant to hobble them (as if the backlog of cases they’re drowning in wasn’t enough).

In the meantime, too much money in all the wrong places undercuts the healthy cleansing that might otherwise be achieved through a democratic elections process. As one hedge funder told me while in New York last week: “Nothing can pass C0ngress, because the Republicans believe all regulation is bad. They don’t want another financial crisis, but they don’t approve of any new rules either. They haven’t quite worked out their dogma yet.” And we know Obama and the Democrats, whatever the dogma, do not appear capable of executing a plan.

Last week, former U.S. senator, New Jersey governor and high-ranking Goldman Sachs executive, Jon Corzine, stepped down from a job he held for just over a year as head of the world’s largest futures brokerage house. The 200-year-old-plus brokerage, MF Global, handled traders’ transactions in the multitrillion-dollar futures market, where people bet on the future prices of everything from soybeans to gasoline to interest rates.

Corzine’s company, which sought to become a mini-Goldman Sachs, filed for bankruptcy after betting more than $6 billion on bonds tied to the European debt crisis and getting caught short. Corzine, a self-described son of an insurance salesman who grew up on a “small family farm” in Illinois, raked in hundreds of millions at Goldman as he ascended to its highest echelons after starting out as a bond trader there.

Given his trading background, Corzine very likely understood exactly what kind of risk his brokerage was taking ahead of its downfall. (“A good rule of thumb is, if the guy is not a former trader, he probably didn’t know what hit him,” the hedge funder told me over a nice-sized steak. “But if you’re a former trader, you get the joke. You probably wrote the joke.”) Continue reading A Certain Stylishness In Hating The Rich

Cash or Credit: A Stuffing Under the Mattress Vs. A Hiding in the Closet

It took longer than usual to take up the pen today. Probably because it was imperative to check out the “Every Single Outfit Catherine Wore on the Royal Tour” feature in the Huffington Post.

Having done that, I now turn to more important matters.

Like this cash-or-credit debate taking place in the papers. Financial vigilantes are urging consumers to cut up their credit cards and throw them away. One article in SmartMoney actually sounded the shibboleth: “I’m going all cash!”

To which readers had a range of emotional responses. Two encapsulating these:

“This is simply an irritating article. I am willing to bet $1000 that the author
is lying and in fact is still using his credit cards and not wandering around
paying for everything with cash. If you’re going to write an article, at least
please be intellectually honest. Do you think we are that stupid?’

And:

“Already living this dream. In fact it is a great reality to know that you owe nothing to anyone. We do not have credit cards either, we have covered that with an emergency fund. We own a house (no mortgage) and we have paid cash for all of our vehicles (no financing). As far as I’m concerned, living within your means and being debt free is the NEW AMERICAN DREAM.”

The most compelling reason for getting rid of your credit cards is obvious: ordinary folk have to pay 14% interest on average for them. Yet banks pay less than 1% whenever they feel like borrowing from the government (yes, that includes JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America — even Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, which received “bank holding company” status during the credit crisis).

Kind of annoying that the Big Banks get to play with money for almost nothing, but not us Little People, isn’t it? Continue reading Cash or Credit: A Stuffing Under the Mattress Vs. A Hiding in the Closet

How Now, Gold Cow?

So, I wrote a book…but I have not been goodly enough to do much blogging about it. This was not intentional. This was mainly because of the furious pace of travel, lawsuits, the odd threat — and the fact that I was serving full time as a journalism fellow at the University of Colorado at Boulder, trying to do my best to live a quiet life. I have since made amends, and will be writing regularly about my continuing fascination with sins of affinity and cultures of corruption. Healthy stuff like that.

Let’s start today with Goldman Sachs letting us all know that oil supply is headed for levels that are “critically tight,” sending prices in the U.S. up to nearly $100 again and in Europe still higher. This contrasts somewhat with the bank’s remarks in April that “supply-demand fundamentals are significantly less tight,” made by the bank’s chief energy analyst David Greely. At the time, this prodded oil prices into a temporary swan dive that proved a good buying opportunity for — some would say — Goldman. Mind you, oil supplies in the U.S. have been near their upper limits for most of the year, so not sure what the rumpus is about.

By May, however, Goldman pulled an about-face with its global head of commodities strategy, Jeffrey Currie, predicting that the loss of oil production due to the conflict in Libya would cause oil prices to surge. On cue, they did. Never mind that the Libyan conflict began in February, raging throughout Goldman’s projection of a price crash. Or that Libyan oil production has been a tiny drop in the global bucket (1.6 million barrels a day to the 20 million-plus a day consumed by the U.S. alone).

All told, Goldman’s prediction came just a few weeks after the bank told its clients to dump their oil investments. It makes one wonder which bank doubling as the world’s largest commodities trader was buying oil during that time? Continue reading How Now, Gold Cow?

Interview on ‘Keiser Report’ – Russia Today

Many of you have written to ask for a good bit more on the shenanigans prevalent in today’s oil market. Check out this show, aired today, from minute 14 on…(Thankfully, you can scroll through to the juicy stuff.) More to come on DOJ, FTC, CFTC and FERC investigations into the price of oil and gas — and where the biggest challenges lie for those who seek to break the back of the corruption.

 

‘The Asylum:’ New Book Uncovers the Dark Side of the New York Merc

Originally published on CNBC.com on Feb. 15, 2011

“It’s the side of Wall Street Wall Street doesn’t want you to see,” one high-level banker warned me before I ventured down the rabbit hole that would become my seven-year sojourn to the heart of the oil market.

I will be honest: I expected the drugs, the corruption, the fistfights and the territorial death matches over money. It wasn’t surprising that the traders who ruled over the New York Mercantile Exchange, the world’s most powerful oil market, imbibed illegal substances and brought guns, strippers and pornographic material into the trading pits.

As many of the market’s inhabitants had come from nothing, their riches effectively overwhelmed them, leaving them with a feeling of omnipotence, a sense that real-world consequences did not apply to them. Much of the oral history of the men and women who built the global oil market, as related in “The Asylum,” invariably touches on their struggle with these things.

What I could not get over, however, was that most of the bad behavior appeared to be well-known to the nation’s top market regulators, the New York Police Department and some of the highest-ranking officials of the U.S. government. Yet as oil prices streaked to nearly $150 a barrel in 2008, no one did anything about it. To the contrary, there was mass denial and the desertion of many key “regulators” from their posts. Continue reading ‘The Asylum:’ New Book Uncovers the Dark Side of the New York Merc