January 18, 2017 / 12:47 PM / 3 years ago

Goldman Sachs profit soars on bond-trading surge

(Reuters) - Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) reported a nearly fourfold rise in quarterly profit on Wednesday thanks to a surge in bond trading revenue, with its finance chief offering a sunny outlook for business in 2017.

Like other Wall Street banks, Goldman benefited from jumps in volume across fixed-income markets late in the quarter after Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election and the Federal Reserve raised its key interest rate target.

Business has remained strong in the first few weeks of 2017, Chief Financial Officer Harvey Schwartz said, offering optimism for the rest of the year.

“We’ve come out of a very low volume, low volatility environment over a number of years,” he said on a conference call. “With the shifting policies around the globe, it’s an extraordinary catalyst.”

However, Goldman’s shares fell 0.8 percent to $233.74 at mid-afternoon.

In research notes, analysts said expectations had run up so high leading into Goldman’s report, with its stock up nearly 30 percent since the Nov. 8 U.S. election, that even the sharp rise in profit disappointed some investors.

“The bar was high,” said Citigroup analyst Keith Horowitz.

While the bank’s adjusted earnings per share of $5.08 topped the average analyst estimate of $4.82, some investors were privately expecting a so-called whisper number of $5.50 per share or more, Instinet analyst Steven Chubak said.

Goldman’s profit rose to $2.2 billion in the fourth quarter from $574 million a year earlier, when the Wall Street bank was hit with a $5 billion legal settlement. Its net revenue jumped 12 percent to $8.2 billion, above the average estimate of $7.7 billion.

Bond trading was the largest contributor to results, with revenue jumping 78 percent to over $2 billion, the highest level since the first quarter of 2015.

Equities trading revenue fell 9 percent to $1.6 billion, a decline that surprised several analysts. Schwartz said a “handful” of transactions weighed down the business.

Goldman’s results echoed those of rivals including Morgan Stanley (MS.N), JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N), Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) and Citigroup Inc (C.N).

For Goldman, the post-election gains were particularly significant as several former executives have joined Trump’s administration, harking back to a time when the bank was jokingly referred to as “Government Sachs.” On the conference call, an analyst joked that former Goldman executives could keep business going strong by sending out tweets to spur trading activity.

Investors are betting the incoming administration will spur economic growth and lighten regulations on Wall Street. While Schwartz did not comment directly on Trump’s stated policy goals, he noted widespread confidence that there will be stronger fiscal policy, diverging interest rates globally and a better economy, all things that drive Goldman’s bottom line.

“In some respects, confidence is the best stimulus,” he said.

Goldman has historically relied more on trading than other big banks, but has sought to diversify its revenue in recent years by building up investment management and launching a consumer bank.

Investment banking revenue, including income from advising on mergers and acquisitions as well as underwriting bond and share offerings, fell 3.9 percent in the fourth quarter to $1.5 billion.

Revenue from investment management rose 3.4 percent to $1.6 billion.

A view of the Goldman Sachs stall on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange July 16, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Goldman has also been trying to cut costs, having launched a program last year to slash $700 million from annual expenses. Schwartz said Goldman exceeded that target, taking out $900 million in expenses by the end of the year. It cut costs by 19 percent to $20.3 billion last year, the lowest level since 2008.

The bank’s annualized return-on-equity, a measure that shows how well a bank uses shareholder money to generate profit, was 11.4 percent in the quarter, above the 10 percent analysts believe is needed to cover a bank’s cost of capital.

It was the last time Schwartz would lead the earnings conference call as CFO, having recently been promoted to co-chief operating officer following the departure of longtime COO Gary Cohn to Trump’s administration. Incoming CFO Martin Chavez said he would continue Goldman’s traditions in terms of risk management and funding.

Reporting by Richa Naidu in Bengaluru and Olivia Oran in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Meredith Mazzilli

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