Do as I Say, Not as I Do
Watching Goldman Sachs (GS) executives sweat it out under the hot lamps of Senator questioning makes for gripping television (see Goldman article), but as we all know the ethical standing of a significant number of politicians calls into question whether the pot should be calling the kettle black. Ever since I was a kid, I was told by seemingly responsible adults to “do as I say and not what I do.” I suppose the Goldman execs should follow the advice of Congress, but not their actions.
Based on a recent Wall Street Journal article that studied the investment activity of Congressional members (and spouses) during the financial crisis, the analysis discovered 13 of them were betting against the market. Just as Goldman and hedge fund manager John Paulson partnered to bet against the housing market via shorting synthetic CDOs (Collateralized Debt Obligations), Congressmen and their spouses were wagering against the market through the use of debt loaded (leveraged) exchange traded funds, which integrate derivatives.
Were any of the Congressional investment activities illegal? Likely not, but some question the ethical appearance of such behavior. The former head of the House Ethics Committee and past Representative Joel Hefley of Colorado believes such conduct “doesn’t look real great when the economy is tanking and people are blaming the government.” Facing similar challenges, the SEC’s (Security and Exchange Commission’s) squishy fraud charge complaint against Goldman Sachs is expected to encounter significant difficulty in proving the investment bank’s guilt.
Other politicians were critical of Wall Street too, despite apparent hypocritical behavior. For example, Representative Shelley Berkley of Nevada chided Wall Street for its reckless activities. “No casino on the planet behaves as irresponsibly and recklessly as Wall Street does. Wall Street ought to be ashamed, and take a lesson from the casino industry.” Nearly at the same time, Shelley’s husband Lawrence Lehrner placed 57 bearish trades.
I find it very amusing the same politicians shredding apart the Wall Street firms are in many cases the same politicians stretching the bounds of ethical behavior. Various politicians do a great job pontificating about the latest shortcomings of the financial industry, but fail to take some accountability for missing one of the greatest real estate booms of all-time. Where were the regulators and politicians when the debt bubble was bursting? Unfortunately, “reactive” is a much larger part of a politician’s lexicon than “proactive.” Responding to populist fervor is easier than leaning against consensus views, even if going against consensus makes more strategic sense.
For those having difficulty in deciphering the advice given by esteemed Congressmen, just remember to “do what they say, and not what they do.”
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
*DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions in GS, or any security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.