Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change
Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

This how Goldman Sachs is doing 'God's work' now

Goldman touts steady strategy
Goldman touts steady strategy

Goldman Sachs has been called a number of things over its 146-year history, but boring isn't one of them. Now the firm is touting what it describes as its less volatile, more stable business model.

In a presentation at the Credit Suisse 2015 Financial Services Forum, Chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein—who once famously said the firm was doing "God's work"—made the case that while Goldman may not have been engaged in a high-profile restructuring over the last few years, it has been undergoing a transformation that has improved its financial position.

He also highlighted the advantage of its small size and persistent focus on institutional clients that has allowed it to generate strong organic revenue growth and a higher return on equity than most of its peers.

Vining Sparks analyst Marty Mosby, who rates Goldman an "outperform." said the investment bank has not been as aggressive about telling the story of this transformation as rival Morgan Stanley, which has been building its wealth management business to offset the volatility in its trading arm and investment bank.

Mosby said Goldman has undergone a similar transformation, to de-risk its businesses and provide steadier results, though it has been doing so through all its businesses and not just asset management

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Lloyd Blankfein at the 2015 WEF in Davos, Switzerland.
David A. Grogan | CNBC

Investors have rewarded Morgan's strategy. It's stock is up 82.7 percent over the last three years, while Goldman's is up 59.6 percent, even as Goldman has consistently had a higher return on equity or ROE, a measure of profitability.

In his presentation, Blankfein highlights a Standard & Poor's report that shows Goldman's earnings have been less volatile than its peers. Blankfein credited the firm's diverse businesses, its ability to manage costs, especially compensation and its risk management as contributing factors to this stable picture.

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The claim of diversity of its businesses may raise eyebrows, given 46 percent of Goldman's revenue comes from its Institutional Client's Group, or its trading arm. But here Blankfein lifted the veil on a business investors rarely get much detail on. The presentation showed how over the last five years, among the unit's eight business lines, which include currencies, commodities and credit, no one line has accounted for more than 21 percent or less than 4 percent of its revenue.