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Cohn Says Europe Needs Lehman-Like Moment to Spur Action

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Goldman Sachs President and COO Gary Cohn
Gary Cohn, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. president and chief operating officer is interviewed on Bloomberg television at Goldman'Sachs headquarters in New York, on June 20, 2012. Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg

June 20 (Bloomberg) -- European policy makers are unlikely to solve the region’s sovereign-debt problem unless they have a crisis “moment” like Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.’s 2008 bankruptcy, said Gary D. Cohn, Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s president and chief operating officer.

“My personal view is we’re going to need a moment” because the issues are political, Cohn, 51, said in an interview with Erik Schatzker on Bloomberg Television’s “Market Makers.” “Politicians sometimes need the moment in order to do what they need to do.”

The 17 countries that share the euro must find ways to support economic growth in the weaker members, Cohn said, adding that austerity programs don’t support that kind of expansion. Group of 20 officials meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico, this week pressed European leaders to step up measures that might contain the crisis.

“The easiest way to do it if you keep the euro together is you’re going to have to lower the value of the euro,” he said.

Goldman Sachs, the fifth-biggest U.S. bank by assets, is trying to position itself for an increase in capital-markets business in Europe as banks pull back from lending, Cohn said. Goldman Sachs needs employees in Europe to help win business from a wider variety of clients, he said.

“We think the biggest opportunities for us right now are in Europe,” Cohn said. “The most important resource we need in Europe right now is human capital.”

Head Count

Although Goldman Sachs has cut jobs to align costs with declining revenue, Cohn said today that he doesn’t expect the New York-based company to shrink much more. Goldman Sachs employed 32,400 people at the end of March, down 8 percent from a year earlier.

“I don’t think we’re going to be that much smaller,” Cohn said, adding that the company doesn’t want to reduce the number of clients it covers or pare back on research. “The sales and trading world -- that’s a world where we’re going to have to figure out what the right size is.”

Goldman Sachs has been successful at adapting its business to changing environments over its 140-year history, Cohn said. He said the bank has grown significantly since its initial public offering in 1999, for instance.

“Go back and read our IPO prospectus,” he said. “You’ll be shocked at how small we were relative to where we are today.”

JPMorgan’s Loss

Goldman Sachs has dropped about 25 percent since March 26 in New York trading as investors became more concerned Europe’s debt crisis would intensify and analysts cut profit outlooks for banks. JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s $2 billion trading loss, announced May 10, has led some analysts to predict regulators will craft tougher rules to keep lenders from making speculative bets.

“It’s not good for us to have JPMorgan going through what they’re going through,” Cohn said. “The best thing for all of us is to be in an industry that’s respected.”

Goldman Sachs is adapting to new capital requirements by “rolling off” trading positions that account for about $88 billion in risk-weighted assets, Cohn said. The Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency published a revised set of capital requirements for U.S. banks on June 7.

Goldman Sachs probably will earn $2.03 a share in the second quarter, according to the average estimate of 25 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

To contact the reporters on this story: Christine Harper in New York at charper@bloomberg.net; Erik Schatzker in New York at eschatzker@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Green at rgreen18@bloomberg.net

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