For aficionados of the financial world and the incalculable depths of governmental perfidy does one detect a similarity between the skulduggery at Enron and the respectable advice of Goldman Sachs.
Enron, you may remember, wanted to lose unprofitable assets from the balance sheet by converting them into cash. ‘Give us the f***ing money’ was Jeff Skillings immortal phrase. How did they do it? How did they dispose of a Brazilian power station which was not even connected to the grid? Easy, set up a special investment vehicle, name it after a Star Wars character (not strictly necessary) securitise the illusory income flow, con the financial institutions to invest in worthless commercial paper, and then pass booty back to Enron. But, how can this be? Where is the cash to pay the interest on the commercial paper? No problem, do the trick again, and again, and again....‘ Each subsequent fraud serving to finance the commitments of the previous one and also supplying fees to Enron for the management of the asset no longer ‘owned’ by the company (countable as revenue as opposed to a capital receipt).
Northern Rock has been securitising its deeply dodgy mortgage assets through a Jersey based SIV. The SIV feeds the cash received from subscribers to NR as payment for the assets received (capital) and for their management (revenue). Problem – with the credit crunch the financial institutions have lost their appetite for dodgy commercial paper. This is where the government steps in and does it all again. Through another SIV yet more commercial paper will be raised to the tune of £24bn this time given credibility by the guarantee from HMG. All that is needed to give this ruse respectability is a willing knight to get off his knees, say thank you properly and do the decent thing. Arise Sir Richard, you’ve got your gong, now earn it.