Goldman soothes bonus outrage

January 22, 2010
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, NEW YORK, Jan 22 – Goldman Sachs posted huge forecast-shattering 2009 profits Thursday as the banking giant moved to deflect criticism about lavish bonuses to be paid from 16 billion dollars reserved for compensation.

The prime target for public outrage over big bonuses, Goldman Sachs said it was scaling back its money for employee compensation in the face of criticism that it weathered the financial crisis thanks to government aid.

The bank reported net profit of 4.787 billion dollars in the fourth quarter. For all of 2009, net profit leapt to 12.192 billion dollars, a sixfold increase from 2.041 billion dollars in 2008.

"I think the people of Goldman Sachs did a great job this year," finance chief David Viniar told reporters.

The firm said it had allotted 16.193 billion dollars in 2009 for compensation, including bonuses and benefits, a rise of 48 percent from a year earlier in absolute terms.

But chairman and chief executive Lloyd Blankfein said the pay and benefits outlay had been reduced overall as "a recognition of the broader environment, resulting in our lowest-ever compensation to net revenues ratio" — at 35.8 percent, down from 48.0 percent a year earlier.

The Wall Street giant said that fourth-quarter compensation had been reduced to fund a charitable contribution of 500 million dollars to one of the firm\’s philanthropy programs aimed at stimulating US economic growth and job creation.

On average, each of the bank\’s 32,500 employees would have received nearly 500,000 dollars in compensation and benefits in 2009.

Viniar, who said that the majority of the reductions would affect top executives, insisted: "We\’re not blind to the calls for restraint and we heard them."

Goldman Sachs, one of the most successful survivors of the financial crisis, had announced in December it would pay bonuses to top executives in stock instead of cash.

In the 2008 fourth quarter, at the height of the financial crisis, Goldman Sachs posted its first loss and received 10 billion dollars in government aid that it has since repaid.

US government assistance has been unpopular, particularly as unemployment remained high, and the White House has promised to hold banking institutions accountable.

"Never again will the American taxpayer be held hostage by a bank that is too big to fail," President Barack Obama said Thursday in announcing new banking rules.

The president blamed banks for sparking the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression with "huge reckless risks in pursuit of quick profits and massive bonuses" in a "binge of irresponsibility."

Viniar declined to comment on Obama\’s remarks but said: "Trying to regulate by pure size is a very dangerous thing to do."

Blankfein said the bank performed well throughout the year, "particularly during the most difficult conditions."

Earnings per share in the fourth quarter were 8.20 dollars, shattering the average analyst forecast of 5.20 dollars.

Net revenues were 9.615 billion dollars, slightly below the 9.65 billion dollars expected.

The quarterly profit compared with a year-earlier loss of 2.287 billion dollars amid the financial sector meltdown following the Lehman Brothers collapse. That year 2008 ended on November 28 in the bank\’s previous reporting calendar.

The bank, whose principal activities are investment banking and trading, said it ranked first worldwide in global mergers and acquisitions in 2009.

Net revenues in investment banking surged to 1.64 billion dollars in the fourth quarter, up 82 percent from the third quarter and 58 percent higher than a year earlier.

Asked about a report that the firm will slash bonuses for London staff because of a new British tax on the payments, Viniar said: "For the moment nothing is 100 percent."

Late last year, the British government slapped a 50 percent tax rate on bank large bonuses in an attempt to recoup cash spent rescuing the financial sector.

Goldman\’s robust earnings added to the mixed results the struggling sector began reporting Wednesday as the 2009 fourth-quarter corporate results season got underway.

Bank of America, the biggest US bank by assets, posted worse-than-expected results, a loss of 194 million dollars, while Morgan Stanley managed a profit of 617 million dollars and Wells Fargo topped expectations, with net income of 2.82 billion dollars.

Analysts said the overall banking sector appeared to be still hampered by difficult economic conditions, and that profitability was largely driven by trading and investment activities.

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