Goldman Sachs and the Big Short: Time to Go Long?
On August 21, 2007, David Viniar, Chief Financial Officer of Goldman Sachs, received an e-mail from a trader in Goldman's Mortgage Department. In the e-mail, addressed also to Goldman Co-Presidents Gary Cohn and Jon Winkelreid, Joshua Birnbaum outlined a proposal for the firm to move from a net short position in subprime mortgage securities and derivatives to a net long position. Birnbaum claimed that the net long position would not only be profitable but also reduce Mortgage Department and firm-wide risk. This proposal came at a critical time for the subprime mortgage markets in the U.S. and around the world. Subprime mortgage originators such as New Century had filed for bankruptcy. Two Bear Sterns hedge funds that traded subprime mortgages had collapsed. The turmoil had also spread to global markets. Goldman Sachs, unique among New York investment banks, had anticipated the downturn in the subprime mortgage markets and had positioned itself to profit from the meltdown. Now, at a critical juncture, traders on the front lines of the subprime mortgage markets wanted to reverse Goldman's net short position and go net long. David Viniar knew that the decision to go long could not be taken lightly and would have major implications for the firm, the firm's overall levels of risk and possibly the firm's survival. Goldman's board of directors and key board members had been monitoring the firm's subprime exposure and would likely want to be consulted regarding such a consequential decision.