If you read a lot of media coverage of Goldman Sachs earnings you get the sense that the most important number the firm reports is average compensation per employee, which this year was a nice oh-so-close-to-round $399,506. I CONCUR, of course.1 Also of interest is the comp ratio, which was only 39% this year, as less of the spoils of Goldman’s labors go to the people in the building doing the labors, and more go to the people providing the capital. Progress!
The analysts on the earnings call were not all that focused on comp, which I attribute to jealousy, but there were some exceptions. Like JPMorgan’s Kian Abouhossein, who pressed the Viniar/Schwartz CFO tag-team about expenses and headcount in Investing & Lending, playing an enjoyable guessing game with the twin CFOs about staffing levels in Investing & Lending:2
I mean, there are only few hundred — I assume there are only a few hundred people running in this division. I can’t believe there’s thousands of — I would be even surprised if it’s 1,000 people. So I’m just wondering why you’re having $2 billion to $3 billion of expenses. Is it interest expenses or is it something else? I just don’t understand why there’s such a big expense level.
Because the few hundred people are paid really well? Other? Dunno. You can guess why Schwiniar might have stalled here (and on a later question about I&L Basel III RWAs); the Investing & Lending business model has gotten some negative attention recently. The problem is basically that it does things like investing and lending, which almost violate the Volcker Rule, or would if it existed, which it doesn’t, yet.
Here is the FT’s Tracy Alloway on Goldman’s earnings: Read more »
Here is an important cultural difference between the US and the UK that you should, like, stick in the boot of your lorry or whatever: in the UK, it’s apparently not socially acceptable to put off paying bonuses by two months to save your employees five percentage points in taxes. In America, it’s considered perfectly reasonable to die to avoid a tax increase.1
I was not aware of this difference and it seems neither was Goldman Sachs:
Goldman Sachs has backed down from a plan to delay UK bonus payments until after the new UK tax year, which would have allowed bankers to benefit from a cut in the top rate of tax from 50 to 45 per cent. … The idea – first reported by the Financial Times on Sunday – would have seen the payment of the deferred portion of bonuses from prior years delayed from February until after April 6.
News of the plan prompted a flurry of criticism from lawmakers and even from within the banking industry.
Addressing the House of Commons Treasury select committee earlier on Tuesday, Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, had criticised the idea.
“I find it a bit depressing that people who earn so much find it would be even more exciting to adjust their payouts to benefit from the tax rate, knowing that this must have an impact on the rest of society, which is suffering most from the consequences of the financial crisis,” Sir Mervyn told MPs. “I think it would be rather clumsy and lacking in care and attention to how other people might react. And in the long run, financial institutions do depend on goodwill from society,” he added.
You can sympathize with Goldman’s misunderstanding here, no? Read more »
Goldman insiders said Schwartz, who is 6-foot-4 and holds a black belt in karate, has shown both the disposition and the ability to handle the CFO’s many responsibilities. “He’s a bear of a man, but he’s gentle in his presentation,” said John Rogers, Goldman’s chief of staff and secretary to the board. [Reuters, related]
On Monday, as a bevy of banks were settling a zillion dollars of mortgage lawsuits and putting themselves on a path to (1) certainty and (2) giving money back to shareholders, Goldman released a research note with the results of a survey of investors’ expectations of bank capital return.1 Here is what some sample of investors expect:
Total payouts are expected to increase to an average of 58% post-CCAR/CapPR from 43% in 2012. … The survey results suggest the biggest increases in dividend payout ratios will be for Citi and Capital One, while PNC and Morgan Stanley are unlikely to meaningfully move higher. For buybacks, investors expect the biggest increase for BB&T and JP Morgan (vs. their actual buyback, not vs. 2012 approval levels), while there is little change expected for Morgan Stanley, Bank of New York and Northern Trust. … Many of the banks with the most variability of responses are those that are coming off subdued capital deployment levels in 2012, including Capital One, Bank of America, Citigroup and Regions. Given the lack of consensus, it seems that regardless of the announcement, the market is likely to be “surprised”.
I too prefer to order my life so that I’m surprised by everything.2
Anyway the interesting/disappointing part for me is what investors thought about what GS calls the “Mulligan rule.” This refers to the fact that, in the 2012 bank stress tests, banks asked regulators for approval to return an amount of capital, and if the regulators said no then the banks basically couldn’t do anything (ex regular dividends etc.) for another year, but in the 2013 tests if the regulators say no the banks can go back and ask once more for another, lower amount of capital return. I was pretty bullish on this: the do-over gives you a chance to be more aggressive once, and scale back if regulators say no, so you’d think that at least some banks would be aggressive and get away with it, while others will be too aggressive and have to cut back to a more moderate capital return but still no harm no foul. Or so I would think. I am in the minority:
And here, conveniently, is why banks wouldn’t be aggressive – because their own shareholders would get mad at them for being too aggressive: Read more »
If you’re a true believer in vulgar Volckerism – “banks shouldn’t be allowed to make bets with their own money” – then you have an inexhaustible source of things to get mad about, since the only thing banks do is make bets with their own money, for some values of “bets” and “own.” Bloomberg’s Max Abelson found one today, specifically that Goldman has a group that invests its own money in securities, and it is
a secretive Goldman Sachs group called Multi-Strategy Investing, or MSI. It wagers about $1 billion of the New York-based firm’s own funds on the stocks and bonds of companies, including a mortgage servicer and a cement producer, according to interviews with more than 20 people who worked for and with the group, some as recently as last year. The unit, headed by two 1999 Princeton University classmates, has no clients, the people said.
Multi-Strategy Investing happens to be part of a larger group called the Special Situations Group, which also invests the firm’s own money – as Abelson puts it:
That parent group, which uses the firm’s funds to profit from distressed and middle-market companies, has been a major profit center at the bank, sometimes the biggest, former executives told Bloomberg in 2011. Its holdings that year included debt of Melville, New York-based pizza chain Sbarro Inc.1
The phrase “uses the firm’s funds to profit from” is exquisite; Goldman would probably say “invests in and lends to.” Y’know, like a bank (or a merchant bank). Not that they’d disclaim profiting, but, yeah, investing in and lending to companies is a thing that Goldman does.2
Is this a scandal? The short answer is “naaah.” Who cares? What is the Volcker Rule for? Read more »
On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being standard, 10 being elephantiasis, how big do you think the balls are on the guy who calls up a hedge fund manager 23 seconds after his meeting with fellow board members concludes to leak inside information about that company and then, after being convicted of securities fraud and conspiracy, tells the company, which paid his legal fees, he doesn’t owe them a dime? And that maybe if they put everything into an excel spreadsheet, he’ll think about tossing them a couple dollars, but probably not? Read more »
Unlike the life-changing partnership ritual that takes place every two years, the managing director promotions, announced today, are more of a light pat on the ass that says, you’re doing a pretty okay job so far, but don’t get cocky. You’ve graduated from VP (a title which is now, amazingly, defined as “the level attained by the disgruntled former employee Greg Smith”), and that’s something to be proud of, but stay hungry for the reach-around. Read more »
Attention, citizens of the world: if your wife is a hooker, you, as of this morning, have a problem. Yann Samuelides, a man known for laying down a substantial amount of money to convince a working gal to leave her husband for him, just saw his net worth increase significantly when he was named a partner at Goldman Sachs today and will presumably be celebrating the good news with some sort of shopping spree later this month. In related, congrats to Yann! [DM via Tracy Alloway, earlier]
The following employees successfully made it through the “vigorous cross-ruffing” process and were inducted into the partnership this morning, after receiving a congratulatory call from Lloyd and an extra special visit by Gary, wherein the chosen few got to stick their grundles in his face. Read more »
How can you not love listening to Lloyd Blankfein? He spoke at this Merrill conference this morning and here are the slides, whatever; he is not a PowerPoint presenter, he is a philosopher. Let’s talk Philosophy of Lloyd.1
Lloyd and I share a number of passions, I assert without evidence, but a quirky one is that we both enjoy idly speculating about conservation laws in finance. In the Q&A Lloyd was asked about the clearing of derivatives and their movement to central counterparties, in which instead of banks trading opaque over-the-counter products with each other and their clients directly, taking client and fellow-bank counterparty risks, derivatives will increasingly trade in standardized cleared form with public pricing and central clearinghouse credit risk. Lloyd began by hypothesizing a “physical law of conservation of risk,” noting that “the things you do to reduce the risk of a 20-year-storm” – like reducing credit exposure to a bunch of different shaky counterparties in derivatives markets – “might make worse the risk of a 50-year storm,” like the credit exposure to one central counterparty whose failure could bring everyone down. I’m with you Lloyd: endorsed; narrow the distribution and fatten the tails etc.
The other concern about the move to clearing is that lots of people expect standardization and clearing will reduce the spreads that banks can charge on cleared things (mostly interest-rate swaps, some miscellany). Coincidentally a while back I speculated about a sort of law of conservation of abstraction, in which the abstract fantasies of our global financial system are built on the mucky underpinnings of a basement at DTCC full of damp stock certificates. That was … that was dumb, I don’t know what I was thinking.2 It’s obviously false. It’s the other way around actually: the more the inputs of the financial services industry abstract away from human activity, the more the outputs can move even higher up the abstraction chain. You see this with DTCC itself, which was seeking efficiency by dematerializing stock certificates even before a hurricane did that job for it, or in that Journal article last week about how Belgium is dematerializing its stock certificates and everyone’s all sad about it but the march of progress waits for no paper-hoarding Belgian.
You can see it especially Lloyd’s take on whether increased clearing of interest-rate swaps, etc., will help or hurt Goldman Sachs’s business. Read more »