E-mails released Saturday morning show top executives at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. boasting about the money the firm was making as the national housing market collapsed in 2007.
The e-mails suggest Goldman benefited from its bets that securities backed by subprime mortgages would lose value. The messages seem to contradict previous statements by the investment bank that it lost money on the securities.
"Of course we didn't dodge the mortgage mess," CEO Lloyd Blankfein wrote in an e-mail dated Nov. 18, 2007, according to e-mails released by the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. "We lost money, then made more than we lost because of shorts."
Short positions are bets that the market will go down. As the housing bubble burst, Goldman and a few powerful hedge funds took short positions on the market. Many of those bets required other investors to bet the market would rise.
When the market went bust, people with short positions cleaned up.
"We were just smaller in the toxic products," Goldman's president, Gary Cohn, writes back to Blankfein that same Sunday evening.
Critics say their bets added fuel to the financial crisis.
One of those bets is at the heart of civil fraud charges the Securities and Exchange Commission filed against Goldman this month. The SEC says Goldman let hedge fund Paulson & Co. help select investments for a portfolio that was designed to lose value, then marketed the deal to investors who were betting the portfolio's value would rise.
The SEC says Goldman did not tell the investors — mostly European banks — that the deal was created in part by the hedge fund and therefore was designed to fail.
The subcommittee, whose probe is not connected with the SEC's, has been investigating the causes of the financial crisis for 18 months. Its fourth and final hearing Tuesday will include testimony from Blankfein and Fabrice Tourre, a trader named in the SEC case.
Goldman has denied wrongdoing and says it will fight the charges. In a statement Saturday, spokesman Lucas Van Praag said the bank lost $1.2 billion in the residential mortgage market during 2007 and 2008.
"As a firm, we obviously could not have been significantly net short since we lost money in a declining housing market," Van Praag said in a statement. He said the Senate panel "cherry-picked" four e-mail threads out of 20 million pages Goldman provided.
Van Praag is one of the handful of top executives who contributed to the e-mails the Senate committee released Saturday.
In one, Goldman Chief Financial Officer David Viniar says that in one day the firm made more than $50 million on bets that the housing market would collapse, according to a statement from Levin's office.
Viniar, also scheduled to testify Tuesday, summed up the position of investors who had not bet against the market:
"Tells you what might be happening to people who don't have the big short," Viniar writes in the message dated July 25, 2007.
The e-mails were released by subcommittee chair Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. In a statement, Levin called banks like Goldman "self-interested promoters of risky and complicated financial schemes that helped trigger the crisis."
Goldman said in its 2009 annual report that its short positions sought to offset its long positions in the mortgage market and did not generate large profits. Through 2006, Goldman "generally was long in exposure" in the mortgage-backed securities market, according to the report, and after taking losses on those securities in 2006 it reduced its exposure.
"Although Goldman Sachs held various positions in residential mortgage-related products in 2007, our short positions were not 'a bet against our clients,'" according to the report.
AP business writers Daniel Wagner in Washington and Stevenson Jacobs in New York contributed to this report.
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