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Goldman Sachs announces a change in strategy

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IT IS not easy to feel pity for Goldman Sachs. Its alumni lord it in pivotal government positions around the world; from every prestigious business school, applicants queue in hope of a job; its senior executives earn eye-watering amounts; and it has a presence, it seems, in every corner of the global economy. Yet these are troubling times for the bank. It is facing fundamental questions about its business model.

Its investors are particularly worried by a precipitous decline in the fortunes of its core fixed-income, currencies and commodities unit (FICC). That is the business from which Goldman’s current leadership graduated. The bank’s president, Harvey Schwartz, used a conference on September 12th to give an unusually detailed account of how it is changing. He outlined plans for igniting growth in an apparently stagnant business, and for preserving profitability despite that stagnation.

One factor in Goldman’s problems has been a change in its staff structure. In the hunt for cost cuts, the number of partners and managing directors—the group that has been the very definition of Wall Street aristocracy—has declined by 13%. The number of associates and analysts has correspondingly increased. They form the lower-paid (but hardly low-paid) army of aspirants that once entered Goldman hoping for a career. Now they often just want a few years to make contacts, see the heart of the capitalist machine and add an important line to their CV.

The problems in the fixed-income business, are also structural. Industry revenue peaked at $121bn in 2009 and has since fallen to $66bn. Put simply, companies are doing less investment-banking business and the markets are more stable. So banks have fewer opportunities to make money from transaction fees and from what they see as clever trades (but which their corporate counterparties often see as taking advantage of their customers’ confusion).

Goldman’s performance stands out, nonetheless. Its market share has declined since 2009, from 19% to 10%. In July it disclosed that in the second quarter of this year fixed-income revenues plunged by 40%. All the big banks suffered, but Goldman’s was the worst of the bunch. Of Goldman’s customers, hedge funds have seen a particularly steep and protracted decline in activity. That erosion spread in the first half of the year to other important clients, notably asset managers.

Some banks have said they expect conditions to improve and are maintaining their current structures. But Goldman is taking a more active approach—either out of impatience or because the pain seems particularly severe and enduring in the areas it emphasises. It has cut employment in the hedge-fund area by 20% and the capital used for the business by 15%. Mr Schwartz said Goldman could expand its market share in other areas of the fixed-income business; but every firm says that.

The troubles in fixed income and its inability to generate more revenue than it did a decade ago has led to a greater focus on new areas of business. Mr Schwartz outlined a path to an additional $5bn in revenues, or growth of 16%, over the next three years. More capital will be allocated for credit directly provided to clients, including corporations, and for looking after rich individuals in its wealth-management operations, and, through an electronic trading platform, a broad swathe of Americans. It also wants its asset-management division to attract more funds.

It aspires, in short, to act more like a normal bank, though perhaps, because of its sophisticated technology and clients, in not-quite-normal ways. This is a shift from its earlier approach: of being a fast, dexterous and mysterious intermediary. The pressures on Goldman threaten not just its profits, but also the elusive characteristics that make it special.

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Julio Marchi ©

Publisher / Editor at BS News & Media Services
A free thinker, not labelled as anything, not associated with any party, not part of any group or engaged with any religion... A simple guy tired of the nowadays bullshit who decided to promote more serious debates about what is really happening hoping to bring back intelligence to the superficial and shallow news & headlines that unfortunately took over the existing media scene.
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