Goldman Sachs is pushing for a global settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, reports The Wall Street Journal, which is why it's again expected to ask for a delay in answering the SEC's fraud charges. Despite the optimism inherent in the report, because a swift settlement would be, in theory, good for both sides, it's still hard to see how Goldman can get a yes from the SEC.

The key problem is guilt: Will Goldman admit wrongdoing or not? If it doesn't, can the SEC really sign off on the deal? The SEC needs to be sure a judge will sign off on the deal, so it can't let Goldman off the hook too easily. And the agency's reputation will be badly damaged if seems, post-settlement, that it really overcharged Goldman in the first place.

On the other hand, if Goldman admits wrongdoing, the consequences could be huge because it's facing lots of other, non-SEC civil suits, a criminal probe and nervous clients. Even if Goldman settles all of the outstanding SEC investigations at once as part of an admission of guilt, it would still be viewed as a sharp loss for the firm.

Finally, if it does settle, the public may be a loser because a trial would bring a lot of information to light that wouldn't come out in a settlement. But given the guilt issue, I'll believe a settlement is going to happen only when it does.

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