Goldman details cost savings plan after 'challenging' quarter

Tue Jul 19, 2016 11:16am EDT
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By Olivia Oran and Sweta Singh

(Reuters) - Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N: Quote) reported a higher second-quarter profit on Tuesday, as it benefited from a sharp decline in expenses and more activity in some parts of the fixed-income markets, but most of its businesses came under pressure.

In response to a "challenging backdrop" for revenue, the Wall Street bank embarked on a cost-cutting plan in the first half of the year that will save $700 million a year, Chief Financial Officer Harvey Schwartz said on a conference call.

The Wall Street bank's profit rose 78 percent, easily beating subdued analyst expectations, with higher revenue in fixed income, currency and commodities trading, as well as debt underwriting, compared with a year ago.

But overall revenue declined 13 percent as all of its other businesses reported weaker results. Goldman's profit was buoyed by cost cuts and the fact that it had a large legal provision in the second quarter of 2015.

"Goldman continues to control what it can," Evercore ISI analyst Glenn Schorr said, noting that Goldman kept costs in check and bought back stock to help results.

Paying employees is Goldman's biggest expense. The bank cut compensation costs 13 percent in the second quarter, but so far this year it has set aside 42 percent of its revenue for compensation and benefits. That ratio is flat compared with the first half of 2015, though Goldman tends to adjust that figure toward the end of the year, when it makes final decisions about bonuses.

Its cost-cutting program has involved staff reductions, and will have related severance expenses of about $350 million, Schwartz said. As a result, the bank will only see about half of the annual savings of its cost-cutting initiative in 2016.

Goldman has 100 fewer employees than it did a year ago, but it cut staff by 5 percent during the quarter. When adjusting for the 600 employees who joined the bank as analysts during the quarter, its headcount is down 2 percent annually and 6 percent quarterly.   Continued...

A sign is displayed in the reception of the Sydney offices of Goldman Sachs in Australia, May 18, 2016. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo