Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Goldman Sachs Level 3 Assets Jump, Exceeding Rivals

Goldman's share of Level 3 assets surged 39 percent to $96.4 billion at the end of February from $69.2 billion in November, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission today. The ratio of Level 3 to total assets rose to 8.1 percent from 6.2 percent.

While many subprime-related stakes that lost almost 100 percent of their value since July were categorized in Level 3, other holdings such as private-equity stakes, real estate and rarely traded corporate debt are also included because market prices for them aren't available. More assets have become difficult to value in the last three months as investors shunned a wider array of credit, reducing trading.

Goldman Chief Financial Officer David Viniar said last month the Level 3-to-assets ratio had risen to about 8 percent mostly because some assets classified as Level 2, including commercial real estate loans, dropped to Level 3. The biggest increase in the hard-to-value category was a 59 percent jump in derivative contracts, according to today's filing. Mortgage and other asset-backed loans and securities increased 56 percent in the quarter.

Under accounting rules, Level 1 assets are those for which market prices are readily available. Level 2 holdings are valued based on ``observable inputs,'' or prices of similar assets traded in the market. Assets fall into the Level 3 category when there are hardly any observable inputs, and the firm has to rely on in-house models to calculate potential gains or losses.

Morgan Stanley's & Lehman's Ratio

Morgan Stanley's Level 3 assets rose 6.1 percent to $78.2 billion last quarter, the firm said today in an SEC filing. Lehman, which also filed a report with the agency today, said its Level 3 holdings rose 1.3 percent to $42.5 billion. All three firms are based in New York.