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Goldman's Top Minds Tackle the World Cup

Goldman's Top Minds Tackle the World Cup

Photo Illustration by 731; Blankfein: James Leynse/Corbis

As chief global equity strategist at Goldman Sachs (GS), Peter Oppenheimer typically meets with central bankers, government officials, and other financial luminaries. A May 8 sitdown was considerably more enjoyable: Oppenheimer interviewed four Brazilian soccer stars for a special Goldman report on the World Cup, a quadrennial publication eagerly anticipated by clients and bank employees alike as a break from the usual econometric fare.

“I explained to them that I wasn’t from a normal press outlet. I work for a bank, doing research, looking at the connectivity between markets and football,” Oppenheimer says of his chat with the athletes known as Ramires, Oscar, Willian, and David Luiz. A snapshot in the report shows David Luiz, the Brazilian vice captain, with his arm around the suited, beaming banker.

The 2014 report, the fifth Goldman has released, weighs in at a substantial 67 pages. Published on May 27, The World Cup and Economics 2014 is partly tongue-in-cheek, partly rigorous, and entirely entertaining to Goldman’s international clientele. There’s a “stochastic model” that predicts the final score of all 64 World Cup matches, based on a data set of all international play since 1960, as well as analyses of the athletic and economic strength of each country—mixing observations about Croatia’s hard currency debt liabilities and superstar Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Goldman rates host nation Brazil as the heavy favorite with a 48.5 percent chance. It says it will beat Argentina 3 to 1 in the final on July 13.

“It’s a lighthearted way to use some of our tools on something that’s quite different from predicting nonfarm payroll numbers and interpreting central bank moves,” says Jan Hatzius, Goldman’s chief economist, who organized the report with chief markets economist Dominic Wilson and others. “People take it very seriously,” Hatzius says. “We basically ask for volunteers, and the sign-ups are very rapid.” More than three dozen Goldman employees contributed. “Clients love it,” says Oppenheimer. “Also, it’s been a difficult year for lots of people in the financial markets. Industry performance has been tough, and it’s a nice sort of diversion, really.”

Most Goldman research publications are available only to paying clients. The World Cup report is posted as a free download online. “I can tell you that nothing, absolutely nothing that we write over four years gets as much attention and exposure as this publication,” says Alberto Ramos, the bank’s head of Latin American economic research, who wrote profiles of Mexico and Brazil.

“I started receiving e-mails from clients about three months ago—‘When are you guys doing this? I want to receive a copy,’ ” Ramos says. The first report came out in 1998 under the direction of Jim O’Neill, famous for being a soccer obsessive and for coining the acronym BRIC, for the emerging-market economies of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. He retired as chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management in 2013.

The treatise is especially popular abroad, Hatzius says. “In Latin America, of course, it’s huge,” he says. “The main Brazilian evening news had a two-minute segment, which is a little scary, frankly, because now we feel like we’re on the hook if Brazil ends up not winning this thing. I worry about my next trip down there.” Some concern is warranted—Goldman has so far gone 0 for 4 predicting the champion.

The bottom line: Goldman economists give Brazil a 48.5 percent chance of winning the World Cup, saying it will beat Argentina 3 to 1.

Nick Summers covers Wall Street and finance for Bloomberg Businessweek. Twitter: @nicksummers.

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