The Hedgie and the Treasurer: A Tale of Two Paulsons
Henry Paulson (of the Barrington, Ill., Paulsons) was CEO of Goldman Sachs Group (GS) from 1999 to 2006 and Treasury secretary from 2006 to 2009. During his last year of public service, Hank was preoccupied with the financial crisis. Meanwhile, hedge fund billionaire John Paulson (of the Queens, N.Y., Paulsons) profited handsomely from the crisis, largely because he predicted it would come.
Besides their name -- and the fact that Hank and John both received MBAs from Harvard -- the two Paulsons share something else: Both have now attracted the attention of the SEC.
John Paulson's name popped up in SEC civil fraud charges filed Friday against New York-based Goldman Sachs. Allegedly, Goldman and a French-born vice president, Fabrice Tourre, misstated and omitted key facts about securities that were tied to subprime mortgages as the housing bubble was bursting. While Paulson was not named in the SEC complaint and Goldman denies all wrongdoing, John's reputation and those of other hedge fund managers have been tarnished.
As Daily Finance's Dan Burrows pointed out earlier, "The SEC alleges that billionaire John Paulson's Paulson & Co., one of the world's largest hedge funds, paid Goldman to structure that portfolio so that it was doomed to fail -- and then bet against it." Paulson made about $1 billion on the bet.
According to Bloomberg News, General Electric Co. (GE) told Henry Paulson in 2008 -- at the height of the financial crisis -- that it was having trouble selling debt. Now, the SEC apparently wants to know why the Fairfield, Conn.-based conglomerate decided to share this bit of explosive information with the Treasury Secretary and no one else.
Reliance on Memory
News about the Paulson/GE conversations appeared in On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System, Paulson's account of his much-criticized time as Treasury Secretary. According to Bloomberg, Paulson based his account on "[His] memory rather than transcripts or notes." There is no suggestion that the former Treasury Secretary profited from the leak.
While Hank is adept at grabbing headlines, John is far more press shy.
"John Paulson is unassuming, as far as hedge fund managers go: His demeanor is quiet; his suits are somber; his offices are understated. His nerve, however, is formidable," according to a 2007 story in Pensions and Investments. But nerve goes a long way. Based on John's $2.3 billion salary, Institutional Investor's AR: Absolute Return+Alpha's ranked him third in its recent list of the highest-earning hedge fund managers, and Forbes pegs his fortune at $12 billion.
Though plenty rich, Henry Paulson seems like a pauper by comparison. As CNN/Money notes, he made more than $38 million in 2005 and got $29.2 million in stock grants in 2004 and $20.8 million in 2003, along with base pay of $600,000.
Poster Boys for Wall Street Excess
While the Paulsons have undoubtedly crossed paths, there is no evidence that they have any particular affection toward one another. In fact, as Vanity Fair points out, John Paulson criticized Henry Paulson's plan to buy illiquid bank assets, in an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal. Nonetheless, the two namesakes epitomize in the minds of critics all that is wrong with Wall Street.
"It's Exhibit A for why we need to revamp financial services oversight and, as the keystone of that, consolidate current consumer protections now scattered and largely ignored across many agencies into one agency that has some teeth," says Kathleen Day, spokeswoman for the Center for Responsible Lending, in an email.