The competitive advantage of Goldman Sachs is that any chief executive or board member in the world will return its call. Its strategic dilemma now is figuring out how to flatter and cajole the little people. On Wednesday, Goldman delivered strong results in three of its four businesses, most notably investment banking and principal investing, where its elite contacts matter. But fixed-income trading flopped again — down 50 per cent in the fourth quarter.
Goldman’s plan to revive that unit includes improving its performance in trading for companies — interest rate swaps, for example. Loitering in the C-suite will not suffice here. Goldman bankers will also have to swing by the cubicle of the assistant treasurer, someone they simply did not have time for previously.
Overall, Goldman posted strong results. Its ability to weather the slump in fixed-income trading shows the strength of the franchise. It made $3.2bn in M&A fees, a figure towering over the rest of Wall Street. It has quickly built a top position in leveraged corporate loans, a business previously dominated by commercial banks such as JPMorgan Chase. Strong relationships have also translated into a strong private equity and debt business.
Goldman has identified $5bn of additional annual revenue. Its once-dominant trading platform has suffered from low volatility that has inhibited volumes. Goldman therefore wants to execute more perfunctory corporate transactions of a kind traditionally handled by Bank of America and its ilk. This will require contact building more prosaic than breaking bread with heads of state.
Even Joe Ordinary retail customer is basking in the charm offensive. The Marcus consumer lending platform attracted $5bn in deposits and made $2bn of loans in 2017. How all these disparate businesses fit together is for Goldman to decide. But the penny is already dropping for longstanding clients: a call from Goldman no longer makes them special.
The Lex team is interested in hearing more from readers. Is Goldman still positioned to dominate Wall Street?
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