SEC finds its teethJuly 15, 2010: 7:03 PM ET
You can't call the Securities and Exchange Commission toothless after this one.
Sure, the SEC didn't get everything it wanted in its settlement with Goldman Sachs (GS). The firm is paying a smaller penalty than some on Wall Street had expected, and Goldman didn't have to appoint an outside monitor to oversee its behavior.
But the agency did assess the largest-ever penalty on a Wall Street firm, in a case many observers said would have been difficult to win at trial.
"I see this as a win for the SEC," said Georgetown University finance professor James Angel. "A challenging case ends up being a quick scalp for Mary Schapiro [right] to parade before Congress and the other naysayers."
That's not to say the deal is bad for Goldman. The firm's shares rose almost 10% in the hours after the SEC said it was making a major announcement, and the deal was good for Goldman in several ways.
It didn't have to admit to any wrongdoing, which will help it defend against civil lawsuits on subprime cases. It didn't have to make any changes to management, which has been under fire for its handling of the case. And it got to say that it doesn't believe there will be any charges in other subprime-related cases.
"We believe that this settlement is the right outcome for our firm, our
shareholders and our clients," Goldman said in a statement. "We understand that the SEC staff also has completed a review of a number of other Goldman Sachs mortgage-related CDO transactions and does not anticipate recommending any claims against Goldman Sachs or any of its employees with respect to those transactions based on the materials it has reviewed."
Even so, it wasn't all milk and honey for Goldman. It had to acknowledge that it used misleading language in selling the Abacus CDO, and will have to fork over $550 million in penalties.
That's quite a sum, even if it is only about two weeks' worth of profits, going by the firm's first-quarter earnings of $3.5 billion.
But both sides get what they were looking for. Just as the SEC notches a big trophy settlement to cool criticsm it justly got from botching Madoff and numerous other cases, Goldman gets closure -- just in time for next week's scheduled reminder of those obscene profits.
This will free those of us in the fourth estate to resume our oh so fetching carping about bonuses, though by now Goldman surely doesn't mind.
"The biggest thing is Goldman avoids the death of a thousand cuts," said Angel.