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David Solomon would never win a popularity contest inside Goldman Sachs.
Low-level employees grouse that the chief executive makes them work around the clock through the pandemic to keep up with deal flow. White-shoe investment bankers complain that they get blasted when they miss out on business.
He uses the corporate jet to travel to his mansion in the Bahamas, even as he indulges in hobbies that include pricey wines, kitesurfing and DJing at nightclubs — all the while demanding that his people get back to the office as the COVID pandemic subsides.
And if you’re a Goldman associate and see him having lunch at some restaurant in the Hamptons, don’t make the mistake (as one poor sap did) of stopping by to say hello. He will probably chew you out because in his worldview Goldman execs are supposed to eat only what they kill.
Yes, he’s hated in many parts of Goldman’s sprawling empire on Wall Street — and it doesn’t matter. Solomon is becoming a much-beloved leader with another, more important constituency: his investors.
These headlines (including an amazing story in Bloomberg detailing the plane use and the lunch incident, on top of The Post’s coverage of Goldman first-year analysts’ grueling 100-hour work weeks) have been making the rounds and stoking considerable schadenfreude in C-suites across Wall Street.
But the Solomon-hating hasn’t halted Goldman’s strong performance or its surging stock price.
Shares are up 132 percent over the past year, compared with the 84 percent surge of banking giant JPMorgan, the gold standard of Wall Street, and the 62 percent spike in the S&P 500 index of big company stocks.
Only Morgan Stanley, which has been on a buying binge of expansion, is doing better, with its stock surging 168 percent since last year.
Of course, it’s hard not to make money on Wall Street in times like these. With the Fed keeping interest rates low and printing the currency at a feverish pace, lower borrowing costs make it easier for Goldman to finance trades. Cheap money has led to a flood of stock and bond offerings for Goldman to underwrite.
Shares of blue-chip companies like Goldman and not-so-blue-chip ones like GameStop will go up when rates are so low because there’s no place else to park cash and earn a decent return.
Even so, Solomon is quietly earning kudos for execution. The firm he inherited from the allegedly nicer Lloyd Blankfein in 2018 was profitable, but over time became far less so. It fell under scrutiny for not matching its archrival Morgan Stanley in expanding into wealth and asset management.
It was slow going for Solomon at first. He was said to have considered a deal to merge with US Bancorp — a foray into commercial banking to look more like powerhouse JPM. The idea fizzled over control issues (Goldman’s market cap was lower, and Solomon would have had to relinquish control.) Goldman’s stock sputtered. In 2020, things began to turn. Goldman recently announced that trading revenues hit a 10-year high last year, matching those produced during the halcyon days under Blankfein just before financial-crisis regulations made it difficult to take balance-sheet risk.
Likewise, investment-banking revenues hit new records; Solomon, a dealmaker himself, has retained Goldman’s long-held status as the go-to adviser on M&A.
“Solomon took over Goldman when it was a mess,” veteran bank analyst Dick Bove recently told Lydia Moynihan of Fox Business.
“He knew exactly what he was doing, and he made Goldman one of the most exciting companies in America.”
The big question on Wall Street is: Will Solomon’s mojo last? Probably. The Fed shows no signs of letting up on printing money, which is usually good for banks. Unless it leads to massive inflation and higher interest rates, which could crush stocks and make financing trades more costly.
Meanwhile, the surging trading and I-banking revenues, many bank experts believe, continue to paper over blind spots in Goldman’s business model: It’s still largely a two-trick pony of investment banking and trading. It has a smallish consumer-banking division known as Marcus, which five years into the experiment still loses money.
That’s why all signs are pointing to Solomon’s investment banking instincts kicking in soon. Goldman’s market value of $119 billion has now exceeded US Bancorp’s, so maybe that deal is heading back on the table. Maybe it will make a run at PNC, another largish bank that could give Goldman a competitive edge versus JPM and Morgan Stanley. Goldman could use its currency to buy a bunch of smaller banks or an asset manager.
One thing is certain: If Solomon keeps doing what’s he’s doing, he’s going to be calling the shots for some time no matter how difficult he is to deal with.
“The fact he wants to use the company jet as his private plane — so, what?” says Bove. “No one is going to get rid of the guy with the golden touch.”
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