Goldman Sachs, SEC deal could lead to other bank settlements

A woman walks past Goldman Sachs headquarters


Bill Radke: Goldman was charged with not being completely open about financial instruments it sold just before the financial crisis. Marketplace's Alisa Roth is with us live from our New York bureau. Hi Alisa.

Alisa Roth: Good morning.

Radke: So Goldman agreed to pay a half a billion dolar fine. Who gets that money? Is it the investors who lost money?

Roth: Partly, yes. About half the money will go to two European banks who lost big buying those investments. Actually one of them, Royal Bank of Scotland, says it's contemplating further action against Goldman Sachs. Meanwhile, the rest goes to the U.S. government, so I guess ultimately to us, the taxpayers. The only thing is, when you do the math, it ends up only being about 97-cents a person. So not much of a windfall there. It's probably worth mentioning here that the SEC isn't upset that investors lost money -- that just goes with the territory. Rather the agency argued that the losses were unfair because Goldman wasn't entirely open about disclosing various conflicts of interest. So the game was essentially fixed.

Radke: Hmmm. Well a half a billion dollar fine, it's not nothing, but Goldman does not have to admit any wrongdoing in the case. We're talking about banks that make billions a year, Alisa. Break that down for us, is this a token fine?

Roth: I talked to Alistair Milne this morning. He's a banking professor at the Cass Business School in London. He says Goldman got off easy because there really wasn't much else the SEC could do:

Alistair Milne: Its difficult to prosecute such cases in the courts. So in the end, I think they've been able to face down the SEC in exchange for this fine.

Certainly the fine itself is certainly smaller than a lot of people had been predicting. You know as soon as we started hearing about a possible settlement, people were saying it could be more than a billion dollars. The other thing is if you put this into the context of those Wall Street earnings we've been hearing about this week, it's really just a drop in the bucket. Goldman Sachs doesn't report second-quarter earnings until Tuesday, but the last time it reported, it was earning that much money every two weeks.

Radke: Every two weeks. Marketplace's Alisa Roth, thank you for that.

Roth: You're welcome.

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i made something special for you at pbs kids

The headline doesn't match the story. It says nothing in the conversation about other banks. That's some lazy headline writing

I'm curious to understand how this is being touted as a victory for Goldman or the banks in general. First, I was under the impression Deutchebank was out only 840m. This settlement represents the majority of their losses. Further, the case was not strong legally and yet Goldman has settled big. I suspect Blankfein is hoping that the SEC is not going to impose further fines. But with the SEC blindsiding Goldman once already, I think Blankfein is gambling here.

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