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Goldman: Pay and bonuses of £269,000 per head
Robert Peston | 14:22 UK time, Wednesday, 19 January 2011
Comments (75)
The story at Goldman Sachs is that net earnings have fallen by a considerable amount, 38%, to $8.4bn (£5.3bn), and net revenues have dropped by 13% to $39.2bn (24.5bn)
But "compensation and benefits" (largely pay and bonuses for staff) has been reduced just 5% to $15.4bn. The ratio of compensation to revenues has risen from 36% to 39%.
Which some will see as the bankers doing considerably better out of the firm than the owners.
That said, 39% of revenue is still lower than Goldman has often allocated to pay and bonuses in the past (which is what I'm sure they'll say when they ring me about this post - so perhaps I am saving Goldman the cost of a phone call).
Average pay per head (which includes bonuses) for Goldman 35,700 employees was $431,000 (£269,000) for 2010. So less than last year's $495,000 but - most would say - not too shoddy.
And remember that this figure for average pay should not be seen as saying anything terribly informative about typical pay at the firm, because variations in rewards are so pronounced. At the top, there are 475 partners who take home millions of dollars each year.
Also, in addition to the remuneration disclosed today, Goldman's executives have shared a $3.5bn windfall from stock options granted to staff at the end of the 2008, according to an analysis published in today's New York Times.
What does it all mean?
First, the substantial rewards for Goldman's people will reinforce the case of the boards of Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland that they too must pay big bonuses - or risk seeing their better people defect.
Second, it is pretty clear that Goldman has come through a turbulent year in good shape (including ending 2010 with a ratio of equity capital of 13.3% under the old rules - which makes its balance sheet reasonably robust, though not an absolutely unbreakable fortress, to use the cliche).
Note that this is the year when Goldman paid $550m to the US regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission, to settle a case of alleged fraud in the sale of an issue of collateralised debt obligations - and when it was pilloried by many senior members of Congress for perceived shortcomings in the way it conducts business.
It was the year when Goldman paid $465m in a one-off bonus tax to the UK exchequer.
And 2010 was the year in which it had to start reconstructing its business in a fundamental way, to eliminate some of the conflicts of interest perceived by its critics and to get out of proprietary trading (which has historically been very important to Goldman, but which has been banned for banks by a US reform known as the Volcker rule).
So many would say that the rise in Goldman's share price over the past year, and its continued claim to be the global leader in investment banking (albeit facing stiffer competition from the likes of JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Barclays Capital) is no mean achievement.
That said a few of you would probably argue that the Goldman hegemony is great for Goldman partners, though not necessarily for the world.
Update 1620: I thought you might find these two responses to my post diverting.
The first is from Goldman Sachs:
"You might note that comp and benefits per employee (at £269,000) fell 14% year on year, in line with the decline in revenue. The reason total comp wasn't down in line with this is that we increased headcount by 10% over the past year, or an increase of 3,200 people, mainly in Growth Markets, Investment Management and Technology."
The second is from a City chum:
"The top 20% in an investment bank scoop 80% of the pot, so the more interesting number is £1.3m per head for the bankers (as opposed to the doormen, security guards, receptionists, waiters, cooks, electricians, personal assistants, IT staff, accountants and researchers etc etc). And on the basis of an 80/20 split of that pool, there was £5m plus for the 220-odd senior folk in London."
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HMV: It gets worse
Robert Peston | 16:59 UK time, Tuesday, 18 January 2011
Comments (163)
I have been told by two music and entertainment companies that they can no longer get credit insurance for additional sales to HMV.
Here is an extract from an e-mail sent by the "head of credit and collections" at the UK arm of a major UK manufacturer and distributor of CDs and DVDs:
"I need to advise you that our credit insurers have significantly reduced our insured credit limit on all HMV entities. Based on the current HMV balances, the limit is not sufficient to support any sales on an insured basis moving forward.
"I have this morning met with the Chief Executive and Risk Director at the insurance company to understand the reasons for such a quick and drastic reduction. Due to HMV's listing on the stock exchange, they are unable to divulge the reasons for their decision. They met with Simon Fox last week and whilst they have said that HMV has provided everything asked for, they are clearly worried following the public announcement that bank covenants may not be met. A further review will take place in 4 weeks time."
I have put this to Simon Fox, the chief executive of HMV, which issued a profit warning on 5 January after lousy trading in the run-up to Christmas.
He said he was unaware that credit insurance had been so drastically scaled back - but he said he wouldn't necessarily know, because credit insurers deal with suppliers, not with HMV itself.
When companies can't obtain insurance for their sales, they trade at their own risk.
The entertainment companies I contacted said that for the time being they were likely to trade with HMV on this basis, because HMV is so vital to their ability to sell CDs and DVDs in the UK.
Mr Fox said that HMV had not yet experienced any difficulty in obtaining stock - though that did not surprise him, because this is a time of year when typically it tries to reduce its stocks.
The entertainment and music companies I spoke to were horrified by the idea that HMV might go out of business, because they do not want to become dependent on sales over the internet or through supermarkets.
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The broken heart of capitalism
Robert Peston | 09:25 UK time, Tuesday, 18 January 2011
Comments (176)
Has the banking system been fixed, been made safe, following the 2008 financial crisis, the worst since the 1930s?
Not yet, according to the regulators, central bankers, politicians and bankers I interviewed for a documentary that airs tonight at 2100GMT on BBC Two (Britain's Banks: Too big to save).
The cast includes the chairman of Royal Bank of Scotland, Sir Philip Hampton (and see his striking analysis of how bankers are paid too much in last night's post), two members of the Banking Commission set up by the chancellor (Martin Wolf and Martin Taylor), the chairman of the Financial Services Authority, Lord Turner, the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, and the deputy governor of the Bank of England, Paul Tucker (among others).
What I hope emerges from the film is the gravity of the structural flaws in the banking industry that caused the 2008 crash, which in turn led to the worst recession we've suffered in several generations.
And, which is perhaps more disturbing, few of the participants felt that the system had yet been mended.
Here is Martin Wolf, the FT commentator and member of the Banking Commission, responding to a question on whether Basel lll the new international agreement on how much capital banks have to hold - as protection against losses - goes far enough:
"I think it is plausible if you think of the risks in the system and your ability to manage crisis, ah, we need more capital than the Basel lll agreement concluded. It is clearly a compromise of course. It is an international compromise...But I think it's at least in the right direction and it sort of sets a, how can you put it, a less unreasonable minimum, that's true.
 
"And then of course I hope that countries will look at the particular risks they run or they can sustain. It is clearly possible - as the Swiss have shown (who have imposed capital requirements well above the new Basel minimum on big banks) - to go beyond it."
So how much more capital do banks need? Wolf:
"If you wanted banks that were pretty safe we would be probably talking about leverage of certainly in the the neighbourhood of not more than five to one".
Depending on how you define capital, that would mean safe banks should hold at least double the capital currently stipulated by the new Basel rules.
Is Martin Wolf a loan wolf on the Banking Commission? Apparently not. Here is Martin Taylor:
"I'm not suggesting to you that we should rely on Basel III to solve all our financial stability problems...I think that we shouldn't make Basel carry too much weight."
Or to put in another way, and as I mentioned just before Christmas, any bank chief executive who thinks the Banking Commission is going to suggest only modest reforms to the banking system probably doesn't get out enough.
In particular it looks as though as a minimum the Commission will recommend a substantial capital surcharge should be imposed on our biggest banks, Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays and HSBC - which they won't like, because capital is expensive and their profitability would be reduced.
It might marginally reassure the banks that Paul Tucker, the deputy governor of the Bank of England, wants at least part of this surcharge for the biggest banks to be imposed globally - and he is negotiating for this on the Financial Stability Board, which is the senior global regulatory body.
I asked Tucker how much extra capital he felt the big banks need to hold:
"I'm not gonna give you a number because it's tremendously important that we're in step with our international colleagues. But this isn't going to be a percentage point or two, it has to be meaningful for it to make a difference.
 
"What we're talking about is two things. First of all these giant banks can absorb more losses. And secondly if that isn't enough and it won't always be enough - at some point in the next 100 years there will be a real threat again and [we must make sure] that our successors will have tools where they can, as the expression goes, resolve these banks in an orderly way without taxpayer money".
And here, for Tucker, is the heart of the problem. He made two particularly compelling statements:
"If we have a system where banks take the upside but the taxpayer takes the downside something has gone wrong with capitalism, with the very heart of capitalism, and we need to repair this".
And:
"Capitalism can't work unless these financial firms at the centre of the heart of capitalism can be subject to orderly failure. The rules of capitalism need to apply to them just as they do to non-financial companies."
To put it another way, what's required are reforms so that next time a big bank gets into trouble, all the pain and cost is heaped on the bank's creditors, investors and managers - with none falling on taxpayers.
How close are we to having achieved those fundamental changes, which would be necessary - according to Tucker (and he is not alone) - to fix capitalism?
Not very close, is the answer.
It is not just about the amount of capital and liquid resources that banks are forced to hold, or the maturity of their debt (what we might call the Basel stuff).
It is also about the walls they may be forced to erect between their various financial activities. It is about bankruptcy procedures that apply uniformly in all the very many countries where global banks operate. It is about identifying which bits of banks are so vital to the functioning of the economy that they must always be removed from a troubled bank before they are seriously damaged. And it is about the sheer size and complexity of big banks.
There is, as yet, no international consensus on any of this, let alone a national consensus.
As I hope tonight's film makes clear, we are still living in a world and in a United Kingdom where a big bank that runs into difficulties would still be able to hold taxpayers and our economy to ransom.
Big banks remain too important to be allowed to fail. And it may be worse than that, as the troubles of the eurozone - and the Irish in particular - show.
Given that the balance sheets of many western governments (including the UK's) have become seriously financially stretched, some banks may have outgrown the capacity of their home states to rescue them: banks may have become too big to save.
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