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U.S. Business Goldman Sachs shares fall as revenue declines in multiple businesses

The Goldman Sachs company logo is seen in the company's space on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on April 17, 2018.

BRENDAN MCDERMID/Reuters

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. offered new tidbits about its sweeping operational overhaul when reporting first-quarter results on Monday, but investors focused on revenue declines across nearly all its main businesses, sending shares lower.

The fifth-largest bank by assets said it plans to grow retail deposits by US$10-billion a year and shift more business into its banking units to lower its funding cost by one percentage point.

Top executives also explained in more detail how they plan to make Goldman Sachs more efficient by flattening internal org charts, getting rid of old technology and shifting more staff to low-cost operational hubs. They expect these steps to save another dollar of expenses for every US$100 in revenue Goldman produces, and improve returns on shareholder equity by four-tenths of a percentage point.

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The bank also revealed that it has been actively slashing risk-weighted assets in its fixed-income trading business since 2013, by some 40 per cent so far. Goldman does not disclose the total sum of that wind-down portfolio, which is largely comprised of capital-intensive, long-dated derivatives, a person familiar with the matter said.

But those disclosures did little to ease concerns about the struggles Goldman Sachs faces as it works through its business model revamp.

On a call to discuss quarterly results, analysts peppered chief executive officer David Solomon and his finance chief, Stephen Scherr, with questions about ongoing revenue weakness and requests for more information. They asked what the bank’s total technology spending budget is, when its results will look more like universal banking rivals and why it is taking so long.

“You all want more quicker, and we understand that,” Mr. Solomon said. “But we are going to make sure we do it in the highest quality where we can.”

The bank’s shares were down 3.1 per cent to US$201.28.

Goldman Sachs was once considered a black box of profits, disclosing little about management’s goals or how core units functioned. Investors and analysts generally accepted that secrecy, since Goldman routinely generated higher returns than peers.

But regulations imposed after the 2007-09 financial crisis, combined with changing market trends, put some of its core businesses in peril.

The bank embarked on a plan in 2017 to generate US$5-billion in additional annual revenue, partly by diving into consumer banking, where it had never previously operated. It also promised to disclose more about its progress.

The bank has doubled down on that strategy under Mr. Solomon, who started a “front-to-back” operational review after taking the helm in October.

Management is now putting in place the conclusions of that review, and plans to offer bank-wide performance targets early next year, Goldman said in a presentation on Monday. Investors had been expected a full report this spring.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done at this company to reposition it for growth over the next decade,” said David Hendler, an analyst at Viola Risk Advisors. “Not completing the strategic review until 2020 is ridiculous. It should be done by the next quarter.”

Analysts also noted it was hard to find evidence that the overhaul was bearing fruit in the first quarter.

Declines in trading, underwriting, investment management and investing and lending all contributed to a 13-per-cent slump in first-quarter revenue, which missed Wall Street expectations.

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One bright spot was Goldman’s financial advisory business, where revenue soared 51 per cent on higher deal volumes. However, the bank’s backlog of deals declined, indicating revenue may be subdued in future quarters.

Total revenue of US$8.81-billion missed Wall Street’s US$8.99-billion estimate. The biggest drop came from trading, which was hurt by lower market volatility and the impact of the U.S. government shutdown.

Rivals JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. reported declines in trading revenue of 10 per cent and 6 per cent, respectively.

Despite sour revenue, Goldman’s profit beat Wall Street’s view, which analysts attributed to a sharp drop in compensation expenses.

Earnings attributable to common shareholders fell 20 per cent to US$2.2-billion, or US$5.71 a share, from US$2.7-billion, or US$6.95 a share, in the year-ago period.

Analysts had expected a profit of US$4.89 a share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

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Asked whether his review would result in Goldman looking more like JPMorgan, Citigroup or Bank of America Corp. in the next three to five years, Mr. Solomon said that was unlikely. Capital markets businesses make up 61 per cent of Goldman’s revenue, more than double the portion of rivals with bigger consumer and corporate banking arms.

“I don’t think you can have any expectation … we’re heading anywhere close to that direction quickly,” he said.

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