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Apr 18, 2017

In rare fumble, Goldman stuns Wall Street with weak trading

Goldman misses on trading weakness, Bank of America beats in Q1

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In a rare fumble for what is usually a market-savvy Wall Street bank, Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) missed earnings expectations on Tuesday due to a drop in trading revenue even as its rivals reported major trading gains.

Goldman, the fifth-largest U.S. bank by assets, blamed weakness in commodities, currencies, and credit revenue, as well as lower commissions and fees from equities trading. But the results came in sharp contrast to those from JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N), Citigroup Inc (C.N) and Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), which all beat estimates due to strength in trading.

On a conference call with analysts, Goldman’s newly appointed finance chief, R. Martin Chavez, said that while markets improved during the quarter, a lack of volatility meant clients were trading less. As an example, he said volatility in crude oil prices is at its lowest level in two years.

On the call, analysts were unusually tough on management. They pressed Chavez and outgoing CFO Harvey Schwartz about the trading results, with one saying Goldman investors were showing some "nervousness" about the strength of the business, and another chastising the performance, saying that topping the prior year should have been "kind of easy."

Goldman’s shares tumbled 3.6 per cent to US$218.01 in early trading.

Trading revenue, which is Goldman’s biggest contributor to total revenue, dropped 2 per cent to US$3.4 billion in the first quarter. Equities trading revenue fell 6 per cent while fixed income trading was flat, though analysts were more disappointed in that business relative to their expectations.

KBW analyst Brian Kleinhanzl said it was “up to management to explain” what went wrong.

In the best of times, Goldman generated more than $6 billion in quarterly fixed-income trading revenue. In more recent years, the business has come under pressure from factors including weak market activity and new regulations that restrict what U.S. banks can do and how much capital they must hold against trades.

Goldman's profit rose from a difficult year-ago quarter, with earnings per share of $5.15 versus $2.68. But the results were well short of analyst forecasts of $5.31 per share, on average, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Goldman has historically relied more on trading than other big banks, but has been trying to shift to relatively stable businesses like investment management and lending.

Revenue from investment banking, investment management and investing and lending all rose in the first quarter, but not enough to offset the sharp decline in trading.

Overall, Goldman's profit rose 80 per cent to US$2.2 billion from US$1.2 billion in the first quarter of 2016, when sliding commodity prices, worries about the Chinese economy and uncertainty about U.S. interest rates led to weak results across Wall Street. Its revenue rose 27 per cent to US$8 billion from US$6.3 billion.

The bank's expenses rose just 15 per cent and it paid out a smaller share of its revenue to employees. Its closely watched compensation-to-revenue ratio was 41 percent in the first quarter, down from 42 per cent a year earlier, but higher than the 38 per cent ratio it reported for all of 2016.

Goldman's chief rival Morgan Stanley (MS.N) will report on Wednesday.