It’s fitting that Hedge Fund speculator John Paulson gave his $400 million donation to Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). The largest in the history of the school, it was described as an act of “stunning generosity” by President Faust. That’s her name. You can’t make this up.
Paulson of course is known for his role in engineering with Goldman Sachs the infamous Abacus trade, a financial atom bomb designed to deceive while inflicting maximum damage on the market and society. And for what end? Personal enrichment. It would later require Goldman Sachs CEO Blankfein to attempt a lame — embarrassing really — defense of his firm’s “client comes first” reputation in front of Congress. Goldman would soon settle accusations of financial fraud with the Securities and Exchange Commission for $550 million.
All the attention on “love to hate” Goldman deflected it away from Paulson, the principal behind the trade. In fairness, Paulson wanted to make a speculative bet that the systematically fraudulent subprime market built on “liars’ loans” would soon collapse. That judgment was correct. But simply shorting mortgage bonds was expensive, and the timing of the collapse was unknown so the costs could mount. Not a “great trade.” This is where the twisted genius of Paulsen and his co-conspirators came into play.
The (too) clever feat of “applied financial engineering” was unprecedented, even in a world of financial engineering run amok. It was also an act of sheer frontal violence on a few, such as German Bank IDK. A rescue ensued, sending ripples beyond Germany. Whether bond insurer ACA Financial Guarantee Corporation was a victim or a co-conspirator all to eager to gorge at the fee trough next to Goldman remains a question in my mind.