Goldman still outstripping rivals - and still raising hackles

Despite a 40% slump in profits, Goldman Sachs has put aside $13bn for its bonus pool. That won't do its reputation much good...

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
In some ways, you have to admire Goldman Sachs. It's had an awful lot of bad press this year, not least with the row over mis-selling investment products to its clients (now settled). But it's still pulling in the big bucks: although quarterly profits were well down on last year's bumper figure, as expected, they were still ahead of Wall Street expectations at $1.9bn. On the other hand, Goldman also said that it has set aside $13.1bn for its staff bonus pool - that's an average of $370,706 per head - for the first nine months of the year alone. On a day when thousands of people are likely to be consigned to imminent unemployment, that's not going to go down very well...

Opinion seems a little divided on how well Goldman's core business is doing. Some had predicted that the blizzard of negative attention the bank has had this year, coupled with weaker trading volumes across the board, would take a huge chunk out of the bank's revenues. But it actually fared much better than expected: revenues were just under $9bn, a whole $1bn more than forecast. Investment banking income was actually up on last year, while its private equity arm is also doing well. 'A much more positive release than many of their competitors,' one analyst told Reuters.

On the other hand, the tougher environment did take its toll. Goldman suffered some big revenue drops across the board - notably in its all-conquering fixed income, currency and commodities division, which was down 37%. That's a bigger fall than any of its rivals (albeit it's still the biggest division of its type). It's not that these results are bad, the suggestion seems to be - just that they're not quite as stellar as usual. So there's some hope for its competitors, at least.

Goldman's other priority will be to try and discard some of the (additional) negative baggage it has accumulated in recent months - if only because it interferes with its actual priority, i.e. making pots of cash. But that won't be easy. Making nice doesn't come easy to Goldman. On yesterday's earnings call, it refused to take questions from journalists (all they could do was listen in on the analysts). It said this was in recognition of their busy schedules - but it just looked like an attempt to shy away from the press.

More of an issue may be this year's bonus payouts, which are likely to be typically massive. In actual fact, even this huge sum is a fifth lower than the equivalent figure for last year - which is presumably Goldman's way of trying to reflect the changing public mood. But if its staff end up taking home, on average, over £300,000 this year (and its top earners will get much, much more), at a time when unemployment looks set to rise again, that's not really going to do wonders for its popularity, is it?

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