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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Goldman profits soar as legal woes mount


By STEVENSON JACOBS
Associated Press

NEW YORK Goldman Sachs may be in trouble, but it's still the money king of Wall Street.

Four days after being accused by the government of fraud in the subprime mortgage mess, the huge investment bank reported blowout first-quarter profits yesterday of $3.3 billion, nearly double from the same period a year ago. But it didn't get to celebrate.

Goldman spent the day defending itself against the Securities and Exchange Commission's charges and saw its troubles mount:

• Britain's financial regulator began an investigation into the bank's London-based international operations.

• The European Commission called for tighter regulation of the complex financial investments at the heart of the SEC case.

• Investors brushed off the eye-popping earnings and sent Goldman's stock falling more than 2 percent. In the past three days, the company's market value has declined by nearly $13 billion.

Jack A. Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago, said he couldn't recall another time when a company reported such stellar earnings only to see its stock fall.

The day's events showed how a powerhouse like Goldman can be humbled. The same prowess in cutting deals and making billion-dollar bets that vaulted Goldman to the top of Wall Street is now being faulted, even vilified.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. executives held conference calls with banking industry analysts and reporters yesterday, but the questions focused more on the SEC charges than on the firm's earnings.

The charges grew out of a 2007 transaction involving collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, complex mortgage-related securities that many analysts say helped accelerate the financial crisis and recession when they plunged in value. The government said Goldman did not tell two clients that the CDOs they bought were crafted in part by billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson, who was betting on them to fail. Goldman has denied the charge.

"Clearly, there's a potential for things to get worse," said market analyst Edward Yardeni, citing the widening probe of the bank's dealings.

Goldman's trading of bonds, commodities and currencies helped another impressive quarter.

The firm earned $5.59 a share on revenue of $12.78 billion, besting forecasts of analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters. It was Goldman's second most profitable quarter since going public in 1999. In the fourth quarter, Goldman earned a record $4.79 billion.