What the Goldman “Short Squeeze” Tells Us About the Volcker Rule

The Goldman Sachs booth on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange
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The Goldman Sachs booth on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange

The news that Goldman Sachs credit traders attempted to scare rivals off of short positions in the mortgage market will no doubt bring more gnashing of the teeth. FT Alphaville and Felix Salmon have good write-ups about the plot.

But what I find most striking is that the guy advocating the trade—Michael Swenson—was not officially a prop trader. He didn’t work for one of Goldman Sachs’ hedge funds. He was, at least officially, running a client-facing part of Goldman’s business.

“I was a Managing Director in SPG Trading and co-managed the group. I was primarily responsible for the Asset-Backed Securities (ABS) trading desk, which was responsible for making markets in ABS securities and derivatives for our customer franchise. The ABS desk traded consumer ABS, sub-prime cash, singlename ABS credit default swaps (which I will refer to as "single names") and the ABX indices, which are a family of synthetic indices that reference a standard basket of 20 subprime deals,” Swenson said in his testimony on Capitol Hill in April, 2010.

So the question is, if the Volcker Rule had been in effect at the time, would it have had any impact on Swenson? I suspect the answer is, unfortunately, no.