A “vampire squid” was once Goldman Sachs. It is now just average
Investors may want to hold off on buying Goldman Sachs Group stock until the vampire squid shows its teeth once more.
The once-iconic face of Wall Street profit-making, Goldman Sachs (Ticker: GS), has slipped after disappointing investors at its second Investor Day on Tuesday. Shares dropped 3.8% on the first day of trade and are down 3% for the week after the bank revealed plans to slash costs by $1 billion without providing any specific information regarding the direction of its troubled consumer division.
The bank should use Investor Day as an opportunity to redefine its relationship with Wall Street. Instead, it increased doubts about the bank’s and CEO David Solomon’s reliability.
olomon, in particular, faltered this week, saying almost in the same breath that the bank was looking at “strategic alternatives” for its loss-making retail banking business, while declaring that he would push to break even before taxes by 2025.
Wall Street didn’t like the wishy-washy message in a business few thought even belonged to Goldman. “The ambiguity in the consumer business is an overhang on the stock,” said a former employee Barrons. “Business isn’t why people invest in Goldman.”
Nor should it be. Goldman’s fourth quarter looked brutal — earnings fell 66% — but that was largely due to loan loss provisions, which swelled to $972 million compared to $344 million in the fourth quarter last year. That money is set aside in case there are actual losses, which could help Goldman’s bottom line in future quarters. The rest of Goldman’s businesses, including investment banking and asset and wealth management, appear to be holding up well even as they navigate a difficult macroeconomic climate.
“The near-term problem is a failure to resolve the consumer business more broadly,” said Mike Mayo, an analyst at Wells Fargo Securities. “Investors are left with uncertainty, which is a shame because they’re killing them at other companies.” Mayo still rates stocks a buy under Solomon “with no apologies.”
Still, Solomon, who’s been a somewhat controversial leader since taking the top spot in 2018, has a lot to prove to Goldman’s investors and board. It doesn’t help that Goldman’s closest rival, James Gorman-led Morgan Stanley (MS), has replaced it as the beacon of Wall Street. Where Goldman stuttered, Morgan Stanley became a profitable machine after making an early decision to build out its wealth management business to generate more consistent revenue to offset volatility in investment banking and trading.
Meanwhile, Goldman, whose earlier penchant for making money earned him the nickname “vampire squid” in a 2010 Rolling Stone article, has faltered of late.
With Goldman shares trading at 1.1 times book value and 10 times forward earnings, there is some evidence that this could be a value play. Morgan Stanley still trades at 1.8 times book value and 13 times earnings. The company could also buy back more shares than expected as it trims private-equity-like investments on its balance sheet that increase earnings volatility, says David Konrad, a managing director at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, who rates Goldman stock as a buy.
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However, Konrad cautions that Goldman is likely to fall short of its stated return on real equity target range of 15% to 17% this year and next, thanks in large part to continued sluggish business execution across the industry .
“The first half of the year Goldman will be in turnaround mode until capital market activity picks up,” he says. The return of this activity is, of course, dependent on the Federal Reserve easing monetary tightening and out of the hands of Goldman and peer banks, which also saw advisory revenues halve last year.
With execution risk a factor and market conditions against the bank, investors might be better off waiting for a more attractive entry point — or at least signs that Goldman’s swagger has returned.