One of the first people I'll want to hear from now that SAC Capital Advisors LP hasagreed to plead guilty to securities fraud is Gary Cohn, the president and chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
Last summer Cohn publicly vouched for Steven A. Cohen's hedge fund after it had been indicted on insider-trading charges. "They're an important client to us, they have been an important client to us," Cohn said in a July 31 interview on CNBC. "We continue to trade with them, and they're a great counterparty."
Will Goldman or other major financial institutions still trade with SAC now that it has agreedto pay a record $1.2 billion penalty? A Goldman spokesman, Michael DuVally, had no comment when I asked him this morning. As Bloomberg News noted in July, Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley continued trading with SAC after the indictment, too. So Goldman hasn't been alone in this regard.
Although SAC won't be the powerhouse it once was, it still would have a lot of money under management as a so-called family office running Cohen's personal fortune -- estimated at $9 billion before the plea deal, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. That still is a lot of money, and plenty of people will want his firm's commissions.
But will doing business with SAC bring with it a reputational taint? Perhaps not, or at least not enough of one to make SAC a pariah. The government hasn't charged Cohen himself criminally, and SAC's counterparties could reason that a conviction against the firm wasn't a surprise. Six former SAC traders have pleaded guilty to criminal charges already. A verdict against SAC reinforces what everyone assumed about the firm anyway. If the indictment didn't send SAC's counterparties fleeing, you have to wonder why a conviction would. (Clients are another matter: Most already have fled, and the guilty plea would formally put an end to SAC's business of managing money for outsiders.)
Besides, criminal convictions haven't been automatic disqualifiers for other corporations. BP Plc pleaded guilty to criminal charges after its oil-well blowout and spill in the Gulf of Mexico left 11 workers dead and polluted entire ecosystems. The company has no trouble hiring Wall Street firms for deal advice or trading with them as counterparties. Plus, there are plenty of wealthy scoundrels out there who still have trading accounts at large Wall Street banks.
A good reputation for honesty and fair dealing counts for a lot on Wall Street. But usually what counts most is the money.
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