Citigroup’s shock deal

It’s one thing to make or take ill-advised development loans, or pay a bit above the valuation during an acquisition hoping the market will cover up any excessive optimism.

It’s quite another to create deals you know will go bad, take fees for doing so and then take profits by betting against the deal. As Thomas Friedman writes in the NYT, it really takes a special talent to make Goldman Sachs look bad.

The news was that Citigroup had to pay a $285 million fine to settle a case in which, with one hand, Citibank sold a package of toxic mortgage-backed securities to unsuspecting customers — securities that it knew were likely to go bust — and, with the other hand, shorted the same securities — that is, bet millions of dollars that they would go bust.

It doesn’t get any more immoral than this. As the Securities and Exchange Commission civil complaint noted, in 2007, Citigroup exercised “significant influence” over choosing $500 million of the $1 billion worth of assets in the deal, and the global bank deliberately chose collateralized debt obligations, or C.D.O.’s, built from mortgage loans almost sure to fail. According to The Wall Street Journal, the S.E.C. complaint quoted one unnamed C.D.O. trader outside Citigroup as describing the portfolio as resembling something your dog leaves on your neighbor’s lawn. “The deal became largely worthless within months of its creation,” The Journal added.

 

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