Goldman Offers Loans to Stretched Employees

Goldman Sachs got its bailout. Now some of its bankers, those aristocrats of Wall Street, apparently need a bit of a bailout too.

Goldman, which accepted billions of taxpayer dollars last fall and, as learned Sunday, was also a big beneficiary of the rescue of the American International Group, is offering to lend money to more than 1,000 employees who have been squeezed by the financial crisis. The loans, offered via e-mail last week, could range from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands.

Working at Goldman has long been regarded as a sure path to riches. But Goldman’s employees

are losing money on their personal investments — particularly in Goldman’s own elite investment funds, which have been considered one of the perks of working at the bank.

Now these funds have stumbled, and some Goldman employees who financed their gilded lifestyles by borrowing in good times are suddenly short on cash needed to meet commitments to their personal investments in the funds. “It’s a problem with the culture of spending,” said Gustavo Dolfino, the president of Whiterock Group, a Wall Street recruitment firm. “No matter how much you have, you spend like you have a lot more.”

The development comes at a tumultuous time for Goldman Sachs, which is struggling to recapture its former glory — and profits — since it became an old-fashioned bank holding company. Goldman is one of the eight banks that were told to accept taxpayer money, and it is trying to pay that money back soon.

At least one of the vehicles, in a group known as the Whitehall funds, sank more than 50 percent last year. Another let its investors withdraw their money this year — at a significant loss.

With a focus on real estate and private equity investments, the funds — which also include Goldman Sachs Capital Partners — have traditionally performed extremely well, sometimes increasing sevenfold in a few years. Goldman even promoted its employee participation in the funds as a selling point to outside investors.

Some Goldman employees got rich before the markets collapsed, allowing them to invest several million dollars in the funds, often on a leveraged basis. Only three years ago, Goldman paid more than 50 employees more than $20 million apiece. In 2007, its chief executive, Lloyd C. Blankfein, collected one of the biggest bonuses in corporate history — nearly $70 million.

But one former Goldman partner estimated that a quarter of the bank’s roughly 100 partners are now worth $5 million or less because of losses on their company stock and other investments. Last year, the bank’s seven top executives received no bonuses. One of them, Jon A. Winkelried, resigned from his position as co-president a few weeks ago, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. His estate on Nantucket is on the market.

It is unclear how many Goldman bankers and traders will take up the bank’s offer. The funds periodically require investors to add more money, and late last year, Goldman’s most senior management and board began to realize some employees might have trouble living up to this obligation after receiving low bonuses, according to a person briefed on the situation.

Employees in the funds are contractually obligated to meet requests for more capital. Several funds have such capital calls scheduled for April. Employees who fail to make the payments risk losing their jobs, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The new loans at Goldman are being offered to help employees meet capital demands from the internal funds and cannot be used for other personal needs, according to people familiar with the matter.

A spokesman for Goldman Sachs confirmed the existence of the loan program but declined to elaborate. The funds that are the most troubled were raised right before the financial crisis. Goldman raised $20 billion in its most recent private equity fund and some $9 billion in the Whitehall real estate funds in 2007 and 2008.

About a third of the money in the funds typically comes from Goldman and its employees, and since 1991, the bank and its employees have accounted for $7.5 billion of the $26 billion in the Whitehall funds.

Some employees now wish they had not invested. Properties like the Helmsley building, which Goldman helped purchase in 2007, have nose-dived in value. Stuart Rothenberg, the former head of Goldman’s real estate group, warned just before he retired last year about Goldman’s real estate exposure and said Goldman became “for all intents and purposes, almost an enlarged hedge fund,” according to Reuters.

Beyond the drop in the stock market, there are various reasons cash is tight for some Goldman employees. Some traders, for instance, are facing tax bills for bonuses paid in early 2008. They already spent that money, and their bonuses early this year were too small to foot the bill.

Others who borrowed against their stock holdings have been forced to sell at losses or put up more collateral against their loan. Goldman is one of many banks that has issued margin calls on its employees.

The employee loans, of course, may not turn out to be a good investment for Goldman, though Goldman can take employees who do not pay to court or seize money from their brokerage accounts.

To some, the development underscores how many wealthy Wall Streeters got in over their heads.

“Most people investing in Whitehall thought this was a sound and probably even a conservative investment,” said Janet Hanson, a former Goldman employee who is the founder of 85 Broads, an organization for women that takes its name from the address of Goldman’s headquarters. “No one saw the entire thing collapsing.”