Goldman Sachs Group Inc. signage is displayed at the company’s booth on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S. (Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

Goldman Bond-Trading Bounce Not Enough to Get Investors on Board

(Bloomberg) -- Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s fixed-income trading desk and debt-underwriting division helped generate the bank’s highest revenue in three years. Investors still want to be convinced it’s sustainable.

Higher credit and commodity trading results drove the biggest first-quarter increase in fixed-income trading on Wall Street. Still, the shares fell as some analysts hoped for an even larger jump to prove the firm is back. The stakes are set: Goldman is halting share buybacks this quarter to put more capital into its growth plan.

“It’s a high class problem to have,” Chief Financial Officer Marty Chavez said on a call with analysts. “When we see that demand and the opportunity to deploy capital with high ROEs, that’s what we’re going to do.” He said the bank still plans to stick to its annual repurchase plan of $5 billion to $6 billion in future years.

The stock fell 1.1 percent at 12:04 p.m. after earlier climbing as much as 1.7 percent.

Fixed-income trading surged 23 percent, helping to rectify the bank’s underperformance throughout 2017, which included the worst annual commodities performance in Goldman Sachs’s 19-year history as a public company. Still, the rebound fell short of some estimates.

“It is our sense that some investors were expecting a much better FICC number, so this may lead to renewed questions about that business,” Brennan Hawken, a UBS Group AG analyst, wrote in a note to clients.

Most of revenue beat came from the bank’s investing and lending segment, which houses private-equity types of investments and some loans. Keefe, Bruyette & Woods’ Brian Kleinhanzl said in a note that he historically has discounted such gains, which can be uneven.

Chavez said the investing and lending progress was broad-based. Results from the debt side benefited from gains on about 100 loans and securities, he said.

“No single name was a significant contributor to the results,” the CFO said.

Goldman Sachs also posted the only increase among Wall Street banks in debt underwriting fees, with $797 million, marking the second-highest quarterly total in the firm’s history. It’s reaping the benefits of a decision made nearly a decade ago to focus on that unit and try to finance more bond deals around mergers it was already advising on.


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“It’s a priority that we identified as a strategic priority really almost 10 years ago and you’re seeing the results of that,” Chavez said. The bank identified its strength in mergers and acquisitions and “we built the debt-underwriting business around that core strength. So it’s really M&A as the driver for demand for the issuance and you’re seeing the results flow through into revenues.”

Goldman Bond-Trading Bounce Not Enough to Get Investors on Board

Trading struggles in 2017 raised questions about the bank’s strategy and led to admissions that the firm hadn’t focused enough on corporate clients. Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein has maintained that many of the issues in the company’s biggest business are cyclical and would improve with more active markets. Goldman Sachs benefited from a return of volatility to equity markets in the first quarter, as stock-trading revenue jumped 38 percent.

“It won’t always be this good, but sure is cool to see a good old Goldman beat in a quarter that was far from the perfect backdrop,” Glenn Schorr, a bank analyst at Evercore ISI, wrote in a note to clients. “We’ll see how much investors believe in the sustainability of it all.”

More Highlights: 

  • The bank reported net income of $2.83 billion, or $6.95 a share. The average estimate of analysts in a Bloomberg survey was $5.56 a share.
  • Investment-banking revenue climbed 5 percent to $1.79 billion on a jump in underwriting fees. The backlog in transactions in that business rose from the end of 2017.
  • Financial-advisory revenue slipped 22 percent to $586 million on a decline in completed deals across the industry, the bank said.
  • Revenue from investment management rose 18 percent to $1.77 billion.

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