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Bank CEOs Grilled on Capitol Hill

"That's what a market is," he said.

"I do know what a market is," replied his questioner, Phil Angelides, the commission's chair, a former California State Treasurer.

Blankfein also stressed that, as an investment bank in nature - even if it's registered as a bank holding company - Goldman doesn't have the same type of interaction with consumers as commercial banking peers. He characterized its role in the financial system as just as important, yet often misunderstood.

At one point, Blankfein sought to compare the financial crisis to a hurricane, suggesting it was unexpected and could not have been prepared for. Angelides stopped him.

"Having sat on the board of California's earthquake authority, acts of god were exempt," said Angelides. "These were acts of men and women. These were controllable."

Of the four CEOs, Mack was the most welcoming of new regulation, portraying the Fed's constant presence at Morgan headquarters as helpful, and urging again, as he has in the past, the creation of a single, powerful, global regulator. Mack also appeared to be the most willing to admit fault.

He put the mortgage mess simply, in his familiar Southern drawl: "We did eat our own cookin' -- and we choked on it."

Shares of the companies were mostly higher in late trades after many pulled back in the sessions leading up the hearing. At last check, Bank of America's stock was up 2.2%, Goldman's stock was rising 0.3%, JPMorgan shares were advancing 1.8%, and Morgan Stanley's stock was tacking on 0.8%.

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