The Daily Show: Scam artists

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Regular readers of this column know I'm a big fan of televised financial advice. There's a gravitas that comes along with being a broadcaster that I think enhances the trust between the investor and the adviser.

You know, I've been looking to put some money in bank stocks, but I'm a little nervous about their prospects given this regulatory talk happening in Washington. Cue sage advice.

"My understanding of the current talks is that the big banks are the winners, not the losers," Jim Cramer explained on CNBC's "Mad Money." "The big banks are about to get their way. That's what people in Washington are telling me - the bill will be a huge victory for J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs and the other big banks."

So, if I get ahead of it and put all my money into Goldman Sachs now, I'll be a huge winner. I'm going to make a fortune - unless there's something that very confident man didn't foresee.

Like a triple-digit drop in stocks, the biggest loss in more than two months. And the reason behind the drop? According to CNBC, it's because the SEC is charging Goldman Sachs with fraud.

Yes, Mr. Cramer's inside sources were so good they knew that the bank regulation was going to go their way and help the banks. But they didn't know the bank was going to be charged with fraud.

You get the sense that if Cramer had been around in 1912, he would've been like, "You're not going to hear this from anyone else, but my sources tell me the Titanic has the best buffet on the high seas. And if you want to get to the dock faster, try the Hindenburg."

So now let's dig into this complicated financial story, and figure out just why the SEC is charging Goldman Sachs with fraud.

According to NBC News, the SEC is charging that Goldman worked with a prominent hedge fund, Paulson & Co. Inc., which handles largely unregulated investments for the wealthy, to create a package of risky subprime mortgages that was designed to fail.

That's terrible, and here's the weird part - that's not the fraud.

"Goldman Sachs then labeled the bucket a good investment and sold the supposedly good investment to others, telling them the hedge fund also had invested," continued NBC.

Underhanded, but still not the fraud. Apparently, you're absolutely allowed to sell to an unsuspecting public securities that you vouch for as a good investment, yet have been designed and hand-picked by a hedge fund to fail.

All the while, that hedge fund is allowed to bet against the very crappy thing it created, as long as you mention somewhere in your ridiculously verbose and impenetrable prospectus that the hedge fund's participation was incurred.

Fraud or not, it highlights the incredibly dubious nature of these synthetic financial derivative products. I wonder if there's a current story that could highlight just how out of touch these banks have become?

"All this comes as we learn that Goldman Sachs will hand out some $5 billion in bonuses," reported Fox News.

For what?! Are the bonuses for your fraud division? Goldman Sachs just paid out over $16 billion in bonuses in January. It's only April.

Was this their daylight saving time bonus? Do you give that bonus to the bonus in January so those other bonuses don't get lonely?

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