Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Meet Neel Kashkari: The Man With the $700 Billion Wallet

Ben takes a look at Neel Kashkari, running for Governor of California. He says he is ready to cut wasteful spending and scale back the size of government. What he isn't tell voters is that Kashkari was the one who oversaw the Federal Government's TARP program which bailed out huge financial institutions including Kashkari's former employer Goldman Sachs.

A Goldman Sachs Group alumnus in charge of the nation’s economic rescue? Howunusual.

Except, of course, it isn’t. As The Wall Street Journal’s Deborah Solomon reported today, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson is promoting Neel Kashkari, the Treasury’s assistant secretary for international affairs, to be the point man overseeing the $700 billion financial bailout as the interim head of Paulson’s Office of Financial Stability. The full appointment would need Senate confirmation, which is unlikely to come given the short remaining tenure in this Administration.
The move essentially puts a new title on what Kashkari he has been doing since he joined Treasury in 2006–examining the consequences of an economic housing fallout. Kashkari was one of three Treasury staffers–including general counsel Robert Hoyt and head of legislative affairs Kevin Fromer–who stayed up until 4 a.m. last Sunday putting together the $700 billion bailout bill that was shot down by House Republicans the next day.
Kashkari (above left) is an Indian-American who has a few things in common with Paulson (above right). Both are former Goldman Sachs bankers, though Kashkari, at 35 years old, is much younger and was just a vice president-level banker in Goldman’s San Francisco technology banking effort when Paulson tapped him to join Treasury. Both also are Midwesterners. Kashkari grew up in Stow, Ohio, and earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Paulson was raised in Barrington Hills, Ill. And both sport similar hairstyles– or lack thereof.
Kashkari didn’t take a conventional route into banking. He started out as an aerospace engineer at TRW, developing technology for NASA projects like the James Webb Space Telescope, the replacement to Hubble, which is scheduled to launch in 2013.
He earned an M.B.A. at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. While there, one of his professors was Michael Useem, who liked to put students through grueling, Outward Bound-type strengths of endurance and strategy. Kashkari participated in one Army simulation in 2002 at Fort Dix, where he was quoted in this 2002 Philadelphia Inquirer article in a comment just as applicable to today’s financial crisis as the project he was working on: “We were all taught to play nice,” Kashkari said. “So who’s going to fight in the sandbox?”
After Wharton, Kashkari joined Goldman and worked in San Francisco, where he advised companies that create computer security programs like antivirus software. He and his wife, Minal, still keep a house in California.
Paulson likes to surround himself with people he’s comfortable with: people, mostly, from Goldman Sachs. Paulson’s inner circle already includes former Goldmanites Dan Jester, a financial institutions banker, and retired banker Steve Shafran, who focused on corporate restructuring at Goldman. It also included Robert Steel, who has since left Treasury to become CEO of Wachovia.
Kashkari’s appointment is another example of how deep those Goldman Sachs ties go. In fact, Paulson himself was recruited by a former Goldman Sachs banker: former White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten. Bolten overcame Paulson’s reluctance to persuade him to take the job as Treasury Secretary at a time when Paulson was so wary of the job that he declined to meet with President Bush because he knew he couldn’t say no to the President himself. According to an article in The International Economy by Fred Barnes in 2006, Paulson also believed that the Bush administration would not be able to accomplish many financial changes in 2007 and 2008. Kashkari’s new job show just how wrong Paulson was back then.
Based upon contemporaneous public disclosures, Goldman Sachs was “forced” by the Federal Reserve to accept a $10 billion loan from the TARP facility in October 2008. But Goldman’s top officers repeatedly – and very publicly – bristled under the compensation limits the TARP loan imposed.
Therefore, as early as February 5, 2009, Goldman’s chief financial officer, David Viniar, remarked, “Operating our business without the government capital would be an easier thing to do. We’d be under less scrutiny...” And on February 11, 2009, CEO Blankfein magnanimously remarked, “We look forward to paying back the government’s investment so that money can be used elsewhere to support our economy.”

But at that exact moment, we now know, Goldman was operating its business with at least $25 billion of undisclosed “government capital.”

In April, 2009, The Wall Street Journal observed, “Goldman Sachs group Inc., frustrated at federally mandated pay caps, has been plotting for months to get out from under the government’s thumb... Goldman’s managers have a big incentive to escape the state’s clutches. Last year, 953 Goldman employees – nearly one in 30 – were paid in excess of $1 million apiece... But tight federal restrictions connected to the financial-sector bailout have severely crimp the Wall Street firm’s ability to offer such lavish pay this year.”

On May 7, 2009, a Goldman press release states: “We are pleased that the Federal Reserve’s Supervisory Capital Assessment Program has been completed... With respect to Goldman Sachs, the tests determined that the firm does not require further capital... We will soon repay the government’s investment from the TARP’s Capital Purchase Program.”

On June 17, 2009, Goldman finally got its wish, thanks to some timely, undisclosed assistance from the Federal Reserve. Goldman repaid its $10 billion TARP loan. But just six days before this announcement, Goldman sold $11 billion of MBS to the Fed. In other words, Goldman “repaid” the Treasury by secretly selling illiquid assets to the Fed.

One month later, Goldman’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein beamed, “We are grateful for the government efforts and are pleased that [the monies we repaid] can be used by the government to revitalize the economy, a priority in which we all have a common stake.”

As it turns out, the government continued to “revitalize” that small sliver of the economy known as Goldman Sachs. During the three months following Goldman’s re-payment of its $10 billion TARP loan, the Fed purchased $27 billion of MBS from Goldman. In all, the Fed would purchase more than $100 billion of MBS from Goldman during the 12 months that followed Goldman’s TARP re-payment.

Did private investors not have the right to know that the Federal Reserve was secretly recapitalizing Goldman’s balance sheet during this period? Did they not deserve to know that the Fed’s MBS buying was producing Goldman’s “perfect” trading record during this timeframe?

Yes, would seem to be the obvious answer.

“There’s a saying in poker: If you don’t know who the patsy is at the table, it’s you,” observes Henry Blodget, the once and again stock market analyst, “Next time you feel like bellying up to the Wall Street poker table, therefore, ask yourself again who the sucker is.”

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