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Trump’s Billionaire Club, Part 1: John Paulson

Donald Trump’s vague campaign promises to take on the power structure – and some nervousness, from the power structure, about his erratic behavior and racist appeals – have given way to a remarkably close alliance between Trump and financial elites following his election.

The stock market has rallied to all-time highs. Trump has tapped billionaires and mega-millionaires for cabinet seats and key appointments. Hedge fund managers and corporate CEOs are cheering Trump on from the sidelines, eager to reap the spoils from his favored economic policies – deregulation, privatization, and tax cuts. In essence, a new club of financial elites is forming, with Trump at the center, and varying levels of access and benefits conferred upon members.

It will be important for journalists, organizers, and researchers to investigate and map these networks in the months and years ahead. Who belongs to this emergent club? What are their networks – political, business, investment, philanthropic, social? How are they benefiting – or poised to benefit – from Trump administration policies? This kind of research can lay the groundwork for challenges to the power structure that surrounds and enables Trump.

This piece, on Trump donor John Paulson, is our first contribution to this effort. If you are interested in contributing research to this project, sign up here.

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Trump’s Billionaire Club, Part 1: John Paulson

By Gin Armstrong and Molly Gott

While Donald Trump was campaigning for president, many prominent Wall Street Republicans refused to publicly support him. One notable exception was John Paulson, the billionaire hedge fund manager famous for making $4 billion by betting that the housing market would collapse in 2007. Paulson is the founder of Paulson & Co., a New York City-based hedge fund that manages nearly $20 billion in assets. When Paulson aligned himself with Trump, he made perhaps the biggest bet of his career.

Now that bet is likely to pay off. Paulson is positioned to wield a great deal of influence over the Trump administration, and he has a wide range of business interests that could benefit from a Trump presidency.  He may also serve as a key bridge between the Trump administration and its Democratic opponents during upcoming legislative battles, since he is one of the top all-time donors to Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Senate Democrats.

For all these reasons, Paulson deserves a great deal of scrutiny in the months and years ahead.

Over the course of the last year, Paulson supported Trump in at least three key ways. Most tellingly, he joined Trump’s economic advisory team, positioning himself to most effectively influence economic policy in his favor. He also donated at least $330,000 combined to Trump’s presidential effort, the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. And last June, he hosted a lavish campaign fundraiser at the chic La Cirque in Midtown Manhattan. The $50,000-a-head entry fee fell just short of the median annual income for a household in the United States. As a host Paulson paid $250,000.

Trump and Paulson have a long-standing relationship. The president-elect is an investor in three of Paulson’s funds, and kept $15 million there even as the hedge fund manager realized significant losses in recent years. According to his financial disclosures with the FEC, Trump made anywhere from $300,000 to $3,000,000 in profits from those funds.

Before joining Trump’s economic advisory team, Paulson was perhaps best known for making more than $4 billion in profits by betting against subprime mortgages during the 2007 housing market collapse. Much of this profit was the result of a rigged bet manufactured by a few well-connected players, including Goldman Sachs. Paulson and his staff worked with banks to create packages of subprime mortgage securities (known as Collateral Debt Obligations or CDOs) that were known to be bad and thus designed to fail. The banks then sold those bad CDOs to unsuspecting (i.e. less connected) investors so that Paulson could bet against them.

More recently, Paulson has set his sights on Puerto Rico. Paulson & Co. is one of dozens of “vulture funds” that bought up Puerto Rican debt with the hope of profiting off the island’s economic crisis, which has spurred massive cuts to healthcare and public transportation services, as well as the closure of 100 schools.  Paulson himself has been the most outspoken advocate of turning Puerto Rico into a luxurious tax haven for the 1%.

While Puerto Ricans are leaving their homes for the mainland at a historic rate because of worsening poverty and unemployment, Paulson is attempting to lure millionaires to the island. In 2014, he co-organized a conference aimed at convincing the ultra-wealthy to move to there. It emphasized not only Puerto Rico’s generous tax loopholes for the super-rich, but also its other amenities, including white-sand beaches, pleasant temperatures year round, luxury apartment buildings, and private international schools that send their students to Ivy League colleges. In his presentation, he predicted that Puerto Rico would become “the Singapore of the Caribbean,” referring to the infamous Asian tax-haven. Hoping to cash in on the influx of millionaires, Paulson has bought up several luxury hotels and condo developments on the island.

Now, Paulson is hoping his bet on Trump will pay off in the form of a newly-lucrative stake in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The mortgage giants were bailed out by the government in 2008 at the ultimate cost of $187.5 billion. The Obama administration later changed the bailout terms so the government received most of the companies’ profits. For years, Paulson and other shareholders have lobbied for some of the profits that are currently going to the U.S. treasury to go to shareholders instead. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae shares surged after Trump was elected amidst speculation that Trump would enact Paulson’s favored policy plans.

At this point Paulson has even more reason to feel optimistic. The very day Steven Mnuchin was named to head the Treasury Department he suggested that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae should be privatized. Paulson and Mnuchin are business partners whose dealings go back to at least 2009 when they pooled resources with other wealthy elites to buy up IndyMac, a failing lender in California, and turned into foreclosure machine OneWest. OneWest foreclosed on at least 36,000 homes in California under Mnuchin’s watch.

See more details on Paulson, his network, investments, and investors below. More in-depth information is also available on the LittleSis pages linked below. Continue reading Trump’s Billionaire Club, Part 1: John Paulson

Ex-Goldman Trader Bought Major Stake in ACA, Shorted Subprime CDOs

The Goldman-Paulson fraud suit threatens to throw a spotlight on a realm of Wall Street that has escaped most scrutiny throughout the financial crisis: the hedge fund industry. Top hedge fund managers profit from Wall Street’s business model of fraud and collusion more than any CEO at the big banks, but tend to evade accountability because of the opacity of their industry and their extraordinary power.

One such hedge fund manager is Richard Perry. Perry, a former Goldman Sachs trader, became known as one of the subprime winners in 2007 — one of the hedge fund managers who saw the crisis coming, and placed profitable bets that the housing market would collapse. Perry reportedly shorted $3 billion in subprime-related securities, netting a $1 billion profit on the trade.

Around the same time, in late 2006 and 2007, Perry’s hedge fund, Perry Corp, began buying up shares in a certain financial management company that had a close business relationship with Goldman Sachs. His stake grew from 5% to 8% (around $30 million in early 2007), to the point where Perry Corp was disclosed as a major shareholder in the company in the prospectus for one CDO put together by Goldman in August 2007.

That company: ACA Capital, the same firm wrapped up in the Goldman Sachs-John Paulson CDO deal that the SEC has deemed fraudulent.

Continue reading Ex-Goldman Trader Bought Major Stake in ACA, Shorted Subprime CDOs

Scrutiny of Goldman’s Role in Greek Debt Crisis Intensifies in US

Goldman Sachs appears to be testing the limits of its special talent for avoiding all accountability following revelations of its role in exacerbating the Greek debt crisis.

The bank has come under heavy criticism from European political officials over its role in helping Greece hide its debts, and on Wednesday, Greek labor unions staged a historic strike that shut down the country’s national infrastructure in response to economic policies urged by bankster elites. The European turmoil has forced US officials to take notice, and scrutiny of the bank is now coming from the unlikeliest of quarters, with Ben Bernanke telling Congress on Thursday that the Federal Reserve is looking into Goldman and questions surrounding the bank’s swap transactions with Greece.

Bernanke was vague about what, exactly, the Fed is investigating, and it is possible that the inquiry will go nowhere. But the fact that the Fed chair would make remarks that amplify concerns about Goldman’s role in Europe is a sign that the political winds have shifted significantly since Matt Taibbi’s “vampire squid” metaphor first captured the public imagination last summer. The populist outcry against bankster fraud and collusion finally shows signs of steering the authorities towards a more oppositional, watchdog role.

Continue reading Scrutiny of Goldman’s Role in Greek Debt Crisis Intensifies in US

Rumors Heat Up in Europe that Goldman Sachs and John Paulson Are Waging Attacks on Greece

The rumors of a possible partnership by John Paulson and Goldman Sachs in the speculative attacks on Greece, which I first reported on last week, are now heating up in Europe to the point where one French journalist has multiple sources corroborating them.  No one can point to hard evidence, just yet, because these are opaque, unregulated markets.  But the news is quickly rising above the status of rumor.

The French financial newspaper Les Echos picked up on my post on John Paulson and Greece yesterday. Here is my (rough) translation:

Continue reading Rumors Heat Up in Europe that Goldman Sachs and John Paulson Are Waging Attacks on Greece

What is John Paulson doing in Greece?

Goldman Sachs’s Greek adventure got an in-depth look from the New York Times yesterday. The article extends on last week’s Spiegel piece, which reported that the bank helped Greece hide the true extent of its debt through the use of specialized derivative products.  We first reported on the parallels between AIG and Greece in a post last week, following the lead of Zero Hedge.  Entry into the paper of record means the story now has legs this side of the pond, and MIT economist Simon Johnson is arguing that Goldman Sachs is set to be blacklisted in Europe.

One question looming over this story:  did Goldman position itself to profit from the Greek fiasco?  Did it use its special knowledge of Greek’s hidden debt to build profitable bets on its future downfall and rescue? If the bank’s past behavior is any guide, the answer is yes.  Ignoring the impending catastrophe (obvious from their vantage point), and failing to properly “hedge” (extract massive profits), would have been “irresponsible” (insufficiently greedy/corrupt) on the part of senior management.

Considering this, hedge fund king John Paulson’s role in Greece deserves far more scrutiny. I wrote about this last week, pointing out that they shared the same vulture flight pattern in Greece, but at the time did not realize that Paulson and Goldman actually partnered in executing massive and profitable bets against the subprime market. Are they doing the same with Greece?

Continue reading What is John Paulson doing in Greece?

Greece: the new AIG?

With the mounting crisis in Greece, another massive stash of toxic debt has revealed itself in a way that can’t be ignored.  Fears of a “contagious default” in the Eurozone hammered markets yesterday, with one Greek banker calling it a “wholesale selling off of the country.” Today, markets are rebounding on hopes for an EU bailout, and around we go again.

Though parallels to Dubai are obvious, Zero Hedge has noted the similarities between Greece and AIG due to the intimate involvement of Goldman Sachs in both crises.  Rumor has it that Goldman was a “bulk buyer” of Greek protection, ZH writes, and that thus “it is precisely Goldman, just like in the AIG case, that can now dictate what the collateral margin that Greek counterparties, and by extension the very nation of Greece, have to post on billions of dollars of Greek insurance.”  This is the kind of enormous leverage that helped Goldman take AIG to the cleaners at taxpayers’ expense.

Zero Hedge’s allegations are backed up by rumors, for the most part.  But there is no denying that Goldman is mixed up in Greece, between this piece from Spiegel and this recent Financial Times article on Goldman’s prominent role in the Greece “rescue.”

If the allegations are true, Goldman is once again negotiating for a giant pass-through of taxpayer money from a world superpower. There are also signs that the bank is (once again) joined by a network of hedge fund colluders in its efforts.

Continue reading Greece: the new AIG?