Traders at Goldman Sachs used to be the stars of Wall Street, but lately they’ve become one of the main reasons why the storied bank’s share price has lagged behind its rivals. The bank’s fixed-income trading division is generating about half the revenue (paywall) that it did a year ago, Goldman reported today.
The New York firm was hit by a $4.4 billion tax charge that caused it to record a $1.93 billion quarterly loss—its first in six years—while revenue declined 4% in the fourth quarter, to $7.83 billion. Like at its rivals, the tax-related pain is likely to be one-off. The US tax overhaul is poised to boost the bank’s earnings in the foreseeable future.
Goldman’s traders have been smacked by subdued price swings in things like bonds and commodities, making it harder for them to make money off of their hedge fund clients. Following the 2008 financial crisis, restrictions on the racier aspects of finance have also made that business less lucrative. While markets have gotten off to a better start this year, Goldman CFO Martin Chavez said in a conference call that it’s far too soon to judge whether traders will turn things around in 2018.
Other divisions, like debt underwriting and investment banking, have fared better, and the bank has made a major push into the staid business of lending to find new sources of profits. The company says these initiatives could be worth $5 billion in new revenue over the coming years.
Goldman announced yesterday that its consumer-lending division, called Marcus, will soon start making personal loans, ranging from $3,500 to $40,000, for home improvement projects, a more humble business than trading the exotic derivatives and risky securities that it’s known for. And while the Trump administration seems intent on relaxing bank regulations, Goldman’s pivot shows how the rules, for now, favor traditional activities like lending instead of trading. The question is whether investors will continue to give CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who has been with the firm since 1982, the time to oversee a bold transformation of Goldman into a more boring bank.