Goldman Sachs

It’s not that Goldman Sachs wouldn’t put Xi Jinping’s kid on the payroll. It’s just that the bank won’t be so painfully obvious about why. Read more »

Small Victories: Sergey Aleynikov Edition

Goldman Sachs does not have to pay the people trying, at its behest or otherwise, to put former programmer Sergey Aleynikov in jail (again). But it does have to pay to try to keep him out of jail. For now. Unless he does go to jail (again). Then all bets are off. Which is good for old Sergey (for now), because, as you might imagine, given the ordeal he’s been through, he’s broke. Read more »

Lloyd & Co. (don’t forget Gary!) are doing their part—and then some—to make regulators feel better about things. Read more »

I can’t find the quote but I recently read someone arguing that you should never worry about anything you see on the news. By definition, the argument goes, horrible things that make the news are newsworthy, and they are newsworthy because they are rare, and so the odds of you dying in a terrorist attack, bridge collapse, Ebola outbreak, or anything else you see on TV are basically nil.

Financial news is endearing because it’s the opposite of that: it consists mostly of pointing at perfectly unexceptional market-standard practices that happen every day and saying “holy fuck, did everyone know about that? That’s messed up.” As Matthew Klein has said, “many things that are considered normal in finance look like fraud to almost everyone else,” so the vein is rich. Libor manipulation, Apple’s taxes, really take your pick. Or today’s Times article “Banks’ Lobbyists Help in Drafting Financial Bills”; my impression is that an article titled “Financial Bill Written Without Drafting Help From Banks’ Lobbyists” would, for sheer unlikeliness, be the financial-regulatory equivalent of a news report about terrorists blowing up a bridge using the Ebola virus.

Closest to my heart among these scandals of differing perceptions might be the “you built me a CDO designed to fail” cases. For starters: the fact that they come out of market-standard practices is reflected in the fact that pretty much every bank has one of them.1

But while every other bank seems to have come out of the CDO scandals with a reaction along the lines of “it’s a fair cop, here is a pile of money,” Goldman, who sort of originated the idea,2 has spent the last few years putting together increasingly convoluted committee structures and online animations to make sure it’ll never happen again, for some “it.” Here is the latest 26-page report on Goldman’s business standards improvement, and here is a genuinely delightful “lifecycle of a transaction” animation that I am tempted to replace with this: Read more »

Goldman Had A Quarter

Honestly bank earnings week has been a little boring, no? It’s been quarters since anyone announced a six billion dollar trading loss, and the recent news is pretty much modest beats from a diverse mix of businesses and where is the fun in that I ask you. Financial-market memories are short and … have negative serial correlation, or something … which might explain why Goldman is down today despite announcing a $4.29 EPS vs. analysts’ $3.87, with strength in principal investments and debt underwriting making up for so-so FICC revenues.

The call: variations on boring. Goldman CFO Harvey Schwartz painted a picture of Goldman clients who are deterred from strategic activity by macro uncertainty – “oh we can’t do that merger, because, uh, Cyprus” – and so spend their time refinancing their loans every six months to get lower interest rates.1 I suppose their bankers have to make fees somehow. And there don’t seem to be many conclusions to draw from the numbers: FICC revenues are down because there is noise in FICC revenues, not due to any change in business mix or performance. VaR is down because market vols are down, not because of any change in risk appetite. Private equity gains in investing & lending reflect stronger public equity markets because private equity is just beta. I guess.

Nor is Harvey your go-to guy to fulminate about regulation, though these days really no one is. He said various nice things about how the regulators are working hard and getting it right, and how Goldman doesn’t act in anticipation of regulations but only responds to them when they’re final. Others have phrased this less charitably. Thus Goldman’s new BDC is not a preemptive effort to fit prop traders into the Volcker Rule, but just a client-driven part of Goldman’s asset management strategy – “deploying our competencies into opportunities we feel like our clients would benefit from.”

So what’s left? There’s comp, of course: comp accruals were 43% of revenue ($4.34bn), versus 44% in 1Q2012 ($4.38bn), and headcount is down 1%. Analysts tried to push Schwartz to extrapolate a trend there, but again he mostly resisted. Keep enough people to serve clients, etc. Read more »

Lloyd Blankfein is getting no help from on high with regard to a mortgage-backed securities class-action lawsuit. Read more »

The saddest part of this job is discovering a beautiful thing that someone has created as a way around financial regulation, and then watching philistine regulators destroy it. But the happiest part is dreaming up a come-on-that-could-never-work ploy to get around some financial regulation, and then finding out that someone’s actually doing it. Extra points if the someone is Goldman Sachs.

Two weeks ago I thought I’d concocted a way around the Volcker Rule’s porous and silly restrictions on banks running private equity funds. My solution involved (1) having a merchant banking business that took no outside investors (which the Volcker Rule does not restrict), (2) having a private equity fund that took no bank money (since the Volcker Rule limits banks to owning 3% of such funds), and (3) having your merchant bank and your private equity arm co-invest in deals. Since that doesn’t quite work,1 I later modified it a bit to have the outside investors co-invest directly, rather than through a private equity fund, and give the bank its management fee in the form of better economics to the merchant bank in each investment.

Today Reuters has this: Read more »