By Tara LaCapra
NEW YORK — Goldman Sachs Group on Thursday said third-quarter revenue plunged 20 percent, hurt by weak mortgage and bond-trading results, but profit dropped only slightly as the Wall Street bank slashed compensation and other expenses.
Revenue from trading fixed-income, currency and commodity products for clients, one of the bank’s biggest businesses, plunged 44 percent, a much sharper decline than those posted by rivals. Goldman (GS) said revenue from investing its own money in bonds and loans fell 46 percent. The bank’s shares fell 2.6 percent in pre-market trading.
“Goldman showed that they are also mortal,” said Michael Holland, founder of Holland Co., which owns financial stocks but doesn’t own Goldman shares.
Banks across Wall Street were hurt in the third quarter by the Federal Reserve’s surprise decision to continue its bond buying stimulus instead of starting to wind it down. Customer trading volume dropped because the decision assured investors that they could hold onto their bonds for longer periods without worrying about rising rates.
Goldman responded to the weaker revenue by cutting the money set aside for compensation by 35 percent, to $2.38 billion. So far this year it has set aside $10.4 billion to pay employees, down 5 percent from the first nine months of 2012.
Overall, Goldman reported net income for common shareholders of $1.43 billion, or $2.88 a share, down 2 percent from $1.46 billion, or $2.85 a share, a year earlier. Per-share earnings rose because of stock repurchases.
Analysts had been expecting earnings of $2.43 a share, on average, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. But analysts had forecast higher revenue, and most of Goldman’s earnings beat came from cost-cutting.
The bank boosted its dividend for the third time in less than two years, to 55 cents a share quarterly from 50 cents.
The dividend is a relatively small expenditure for the bank, but Goldman is usually loathe to boost its payout if there are better opportunities for it to invest the money elsewhere.
“The third quarter’s results reflected a period of slow client activity,” Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein said in a statement.
Blankfein laid some of the blame on the budget impasse in Washington, which made companies and investors hesitant to take risk. Wall Street banks that reported earnings earlier in the month, including JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Citigroup (C) and Bank of America (BAC), also reported lower fixed-income trading revenue, and said that uncertainty about the Federal Reserve’s plans for monetary easing had also hurt trading volumes.
So you’re seeing a lot of strength in housing, and it’s coming from almost every place geographically … So that’s sort of the big winner. Auto and that whole complex is a big winner. They’re doing over 15 million cars this year, up from 8.5 at the bottom. And then you have the energy complex, which is really, really a revolution. This is hard to underestimate the impact of energy and all the natural gas that’s being produced and all the subsidiary types of things that come from that activity. And if you add on top of that, technology which is still a very big pocket of strength and quite robust in the United States, you’ve got some really good stuff happening.
On the other hand we do have the U.S. government at work, trying to decrease growth as rapidly as they can. And so they’ve, unfortunately, had some success in that area, and that leaves us somewhere in the 2%-plus area.
On the positive side, economic fundamentals in the United States continue to improve. The main impediment to growth appears to be the speed and nature of the withdrawal of fiscal stimulus. Debate has actually now opened up on how and when to withdraw some of the monetary expansion. All of this is very good news.
At the same time, the rest of the world looks no stronger. Europe is mired in a recession, Asian growth seems more modest and Japanese attempts to restimulate their economy through monetary stimulation have set off further downward pressure on interest rates and currency values.
The overriding driver of recovery in the housing market remains the underproduction of both single and multifamily product throughout the economic downturn and up to and including this year. Over the past 5 years of housing production, we’ve built an average of under 700,000 single and multifamily homes total per year, with an average obsolescence rate of approximately 300,000 per year. This compares to a need for new dwelling units per year of between 1.2 million and 1.5 million.
This year, a significantly stronger year of building activity, we will produce approximately 950,000 single and multifamily dwellings, and again, will underserve the country’s needs. We have more than absorbed the overbuilding of the early to mid-2000s, and have been underproducing for a protracted period of time. This shortfall will have to be made up, and the builders of both multi and single-family products have been pushing to increase production.
I think when you look at some of the economic indicators, housing starts are up, prices are up on housing. I think housing is a really important measure for us because we have a lot of jobs around that. A lot of contracting roofers, et cetera, around that. All of that is positive. And so we’re feeling like we’re coming off the end of the year with some momentum, and that will certainly help us.
Although we have seen recent improvements in the U.S. economy, growth is relatively light and confidence remains fragile. In addition, while the market generally feels better about the tail risk in Europe, the economy is challenged.
Given the continued uncertainty in the market, we are not managing the firm with the hope that the macro backdrop will improve. We are focused on managing through a continued difficult operating environment.
The situation in Europe is not even slightly better. It’s probably slightly worse. Even if we do not have a Greece event, if you will, the environment is moving from an economic standpoint to recession. And so the mood with our clients over there is still to be thoughtful and to be very mindful about the way they invest. And when clients are thoughtful and mindful, they tend to wait a little bit more and to think further on when and how much they’re going to invest.
“I think the whole thing about the 2% extra payroll tax wasn’t helpful. Don’t forget, in America, the average household makes $50,000. 2% is $1,000 a year. I mean, after tax, that’s a hurt in their pocketbook. Gas prices have been going up. I — and you’ve seen the retailer results, the Walmarts, Kmarts, Targets, Costcos of the world had, had results less than they expected, not very good. So it’s weak. I don’t think it’s — I’m not ready to declare it’s a permanent decline or a second dip on the recession there, but it’s a little nervous as far as what’s going on up there.”
We’re really proud now that the [government budget] deficit could only be $600 billion in the year, and while that’s encouraging, it doesn’t do anything to fix the long-term problem, and the long-term problem is entitlements. If you take a look at the Medicare and Medicaid in particular and some on Social Security that while debt as a percent of GDP is we’ll say around 75% today and under the new estimate grows to 83% by the end of the decade … You take those same numbers, go up to the next decade and it goes to 135% debt as a percentage of GDP largely driven by the baby boomer generation retiring which no politician, Republican or Democrat, really wants to talk about. They’re more than willing to say we got to reform entitlements but as soon as you say well, like what, that’s when they all start to back off because they don’t want to anger the voters.
I think there’s a lot of concern about central banks not just in the U.S., China elsewhere, and maybe they stretched themselves out, and they played this maybe game, you want to call it for quite a while and maybe they are getting a brick wall, and the days of easy and free money may be coming to an end or at least maybe tapering off. But it probably wouldn’t be good [for the global economy in the short-term], maybe good for long-term because then it would be more based upon fundamentals rather than speed injections.
Photo: Park Electrochemical
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