Gary Cohn once purchased a bunch of cows as part of an investment strategy at Goldman Sachs. When he discovered they were starving to death, he traded the cattle position away.
Cohn, who is now the top economic adviser to the White House and a leading candidate to be the next chairman of the Federal Reserve, had moved to London to help Goldman Sachs expand its commodities trading operation, a unit called J. Aron & Company. Goldman launched the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index in 1991 to track eighteen different raw materials.
In The Secret Club That Rules the World: Inside the Fraternity of Commodities, journalist Kate Kelly tells the story of how Cohn came to purchase the cows, discover their poor condition, and then sell the flawed animals.
Shortly after the GSCI began trading, Cohn arranged to purchase cattle in Colorado to test out the physical commodity underlying one of the contracts the index was now buying on a regular basis. As part of their experiment, Cohn and his boss flew in a small plane over their cattle’s ranch to inspect the goods–only to find the animals starving to death as they stood stranded in several feet of snow. Eyeing the scene, Cohn’s boss told hm to sell the physical cattle positions the minute he got back from New York. Cohn agreed it was a bad trade, and the suffering of the animals left a minimal impression.
Breitbart News confirmed that Cohn did indeed sell the cattle position. According to a person familiar with the situation, the buyer would not have known the cows were in such poor condition.
Goldman Sachs was accused by securities regulators of selling fraudulent mortgage derivatives to a German investment firm as part of its infamous Abacus trade. At the heart of the Abacus accusation was the alleged failure of Goldman to disclose to the customer that the mortgages packaged in the derivative were selected by a hedge fund that was taking the other side of the trade, betting the mortgages would default. This allegedly led the customer to believe the underlying mortgages were healthier than they were.
One former Goldman employee described the trade as “Cattle Abacus” in an interview with Breitbart News. “He sold someone a cattle position knowing it was a bad quality position. That’s exactly Abacus. But with dying cows instead of dying mortgages,” the ex-employee said.
Not everyone agrees.
“I think it is a bit of a stretch to say that Gary’s cow trade was cattle Abacus. But I can see where the counter party would have a beef with it,” another former Goldman employee said.