Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The $850 Million Questions

One last observation from Goldman's 10-Q: on page 126 the bank announced that a major portion of the charges taken in the orphan December month was associated with the $850 writedown of its securities in LyondellBasell Finance Company.
"(1) Includes one day on which the firm incurred negative trading net revenues of $859 million, principally reflecting a writedown of approximately $850 million related to the bridge and bank loan facilities held in LyondellBasell Finance Company."
Now, two questions emerge:

i) the digital jump in value on this loan from something likely reflecting par to a value indicative of zero or just above, raising questions about just what the mark-to-market or otherwise methodology at Goldman is, especially since the underlying bonds in Lyondell did not demonstrate anywhere near to a comparable corresponding plunge.

ii) why did Goldman take the charge in December, when LyondelBasell did not file for bankruptcy until January 6, 2009? Just how did Goldman know to remark their position a week in advance of one of the biggest bankruptcies for 2009? As has been speculated elsewhere, the orphan month of December was used by Goldman as a garbage bag in to mark down all its underpeforming positions (and in some cases undermark existing assets especially in the commodities book). As such, it seems Lyondell was merely yet another symptom of this rampant remarking malaise, although what is not clear is what prompted the bank to remark when it did. Obviously a near $1 billion writedown in Q1 (where it belongs), would not have been quite as palatable to shareholders who were thrilled to see the bank obliterate earnings expectations, just like all the other banks in the US. Sphere: Related Content
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