Day one of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’s two-day hearing on AIG derivatives contracts featured testimony from Joseph Cassano, the former head of AIG’s financial products unit. Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn was also on the Hill.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are still trying to salvage the regulatory reform bill, with critical support from Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.) reportedly still uncertain.
According to Howard Davidowitz of Davidowitz & Associates, what connects the hearings and the Reg reform debate is the lack of focus on the real underlying cause of the financial crisis: Fraud.
“It was a massive fraud… a gigantic Ponzi Scheme, a lie and a fraud,” Davidowitz says of Wall Street circa 2007. “The whole thing was a fraud and it gets back to the accountants valuing the assets incorrectly.”
Because accountants and auditors allowed Wall Street firms to carry assets at “completely fraudulent” valuations, he says the industry looked hugely profitable and was able to use borrowed funds to make leveraged bets on all sorts of esoteric instruments. “Their bonuses were based on profits they never made and the leverage they never could have gotten if the numbers were right – no one would’ve given them the money in their right mind,” Davidowitz says.
To date, the accounting and audit firms have escaped any serious repercussions from the credit crisis, a stark difference to the corporate “death sentence” that befell Arthur Anderson for its alleged role in the Enron scandal.
To Davidowitz, that’s perhaps the greatest outrage of all: “Where were the accountants?,” he asks. “They did nothing, checked nothing, agreed to everything” and collected millions in fees while “shaking hands with the CEO.”