As a longtime >
Goldman Sachs (GS)
So far Goldman has escaped the populist firestorm that engulfed AIG (AIG),
Goldman s top executives are already subject to TARP restrictions on executive pay. However satisfying it may be to see those highfliers humbled, it s no way to run an investment bank.
That s now being vividly demonstrated at AIG. The government, on behalf of we the taxpayers, seems well along the path toward destroying whatever was left of the AIG franchise. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that 20 employees of AIG s financial-products unit have quit (the unit is slated to be dismantled by the end of the year.) As a result, taxpayers probably have been damaged, the group s head said. Is it any surprise that some AIG employees grew tired of $1 salaries and tabloid TV crews camped out in their driveways and resigned?
The brain drain threatens other bailout recipients as well, including Goldman. Byron Trott, the Goldman banker who oversaw the critical relationship with Warren Buffett, is leaving to start his own firm. Two weeks ago, Goldman confirmed to The Wall Street Journal that two executives who led a division of the firm s asset management investment unit were quitting, as well as the firm s co-head of quantitative research. Meanwhile, firms that didn t receive government money, and hence aren t subject to any pay restrictions, have been boasting about the ease with which they are recruiting top talent from firms that did, like Goldman and Morgan Stanley (MS)
It s a truism that an investment bank s most critical assets are its people. The rest of the country may not like it, but the way to keep those people is to pay them. The ones really responsible for the financial disaster have already been fired, or worse, left before the meltdown, with their huge bonuses already in their pockets. They re the ones we should be angry about, not the ones still trying to save their firms (and our investments in them).
No doubt, as a Goldman shareholder, I m thinking like a part owner (however insignificant), and not like an angry taxpayer who, before TARP funds were doled out, had no interest in Goldman s survival, let alone its success. I ve long argued that it s better to share in Goldman s profits than to rail against them, and I ve been a Goldman shareholder almost from the day it went public. But now that we taxpayers own a part of so many financial companies, maybe it s time we all start acting more like owners. I would love to watch a reality TV show in which an enraged taxpayer, eager to exact retribution for losses that cost taxpayers billions in bailout money, is installed as AIG s chief executive and actually has to run the place.
I have periodically recommended Goldman shares, most recently when I recommended following Warren Buffett s strategy by buying calls with a strike price of $105 and high-yielding Goldman bonds. That strategy has already paid off; at this week s price of near $130, Goldman shares are at the highest level they ve been since last October, and have gained 54% this year. They ve more than doubled from their November lows. As a result of this run-up, I sold some Goldman calls with a strike price of $125, as I reported last week.
Obviously, Goldman, too, thought it was a good time to sell: It raised $5 billion this week in an offering priced at $123 a share. Nonetheless, I believe Goldman remains a good value for long-term investors, especially once it pays off the TARP money. I wasn t offered a piece of this week s Goldman offering, but I was able to add to my holdings shortly after at just $122.50 a share less than the big institutions paid. (Now the shares are trading $118, so investors can get them at an even cheaper price than I did.) When the financial crisis is finally over, I expect Goldman to emerge humbler but stronger than ever, which I consider good for shareholders and taxpayers.