Goldman Sachs-Congress Holds the Key to Its Valuation

May 6th, 2010 by hackel Leave a reply »

According to today’s Wall Street Journal, Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs’ chairman, would like the firm’s clients to know it will be an ethical leader.




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That will, as an inspection of their trading reveals, be quite difficult, unless they do away with their proprietary trading desk. For as long as the firm continues to trade billions of dollars a day for its own account, it will be placing, at times, large bets against its clients.

Unfortunately, its trading desk is too profitable to relinquish voluntarily- at least without a fight. But how does it fight to keep it, given the spate of anti-Goldman sentiment, with its only real beneficiaries being its employees and shareholders? It serves no greater economic or financial good. To the extent the trading desk can manipulate, with its billions of dollars in capital (no figures are released), financial markets in the direction it is betting, its clients’ interests are not just served-they could very well be hurt.

This represents a diametrically opposite picture given by its chairman before the Senate committee last week, in which he gave the impression its trading activities, were incidental to that of its clients. It is apparent that the prop desk represents a very large percentage of its revenues, profits, and cash flow, although it is difficult to precisely determine, especially given the firm’s large interest income, and the extent to which interest results directly or indirectly from the trading desk.

But Goldman will obviously not give up its prop desk unless it is forced to. As the table shows, of its $45.2 bn. in firm revenues, it received 76% from trading; interest income and trading provided 95% of total firm revenue. Of operating profits, 87% came from trading. Included in its trading operations are trading in the most speculative of derivatives, the kind which a slight information edge can result in $1 bn. profit within weeks. Goldman controls over half of the principal program trading on the NYSE. It would be noteworthy to find out the extent to which its short and derivatives portfolio were active bets-not hedges-against clients, and if they solicited such trading so that they could make such active bets. It would be of interest to know how much capital Goldman has, on average, throughout the past years, committed to its prop desk.

One thing is for certain. If Goldman is forced to give up proprietary trading for its own account, or under the careful eye of government regulators must cut back such trading, Goldman Sachs’ franchise value will suffer irreparable harm.

To what extent could we see Goldman Sachs stock drop? To get a clearer picture of the effect of its trading prowess, I looked back 10 years and evaluated the growth in trading had on cash flow and net income. Given Goldman’s last fiscal year $13.4 bn. in net income prior to preferred dividends, I estimate 30% resulted from proprietary trading of its own accounts, or about $4 bn. Given net income of $9 bn., and 526.2 MM shares outstanding, we would still looking at roughly $17 per share, if a cutback were in order. On the other hand, if the firm returns to the wild pre- derivatives era of 2000-2005, when Goldman earned, on average about $6.50 per share, as trading revenue were considerable less than half current levels, but was still very profitable, that absent prop trading, net income could easily be reduced back to the $6.50 per share level. If that were the case, Goldman’s stock would be expected to fall to the $70s, especially given slow economic growth, which would be offset by their high market share given competitor weakness both in the US and Europe.

The most reasonable scenario is some cutback in prop trading, the extent of which cannot be determined or even reasonably estimated. But at its current levels, there appears to be too much risk in the shares of Goldman, despite current strong cash flows and a low valuation multiple. If however, Goldman is able to carry out its business with essentially no change to its prop desk or other businesses, a low probability scenario, I would expect to see a large rally in its shares to the $200 level. For shareholders, the fate of the firm is in the hands of the Congress. And that’s not a risk worth taking.


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