Goldman Committed to China After ICBC Sale, CEO Blankfein Says

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein
Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and chief executive officer of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein said his company is committed to growing in China even after it ended a seven-year investment in Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd.

Goldman Sachs this week sold a $1.1 billion stake in ICBC, the world’s largest lender by market value, a person familiar with the matter said. The firm reaped about $12 billion in sales proceeds and dividends from its $2.58 billion investment in ICBC, calculations by Macquarie Capital Securities Ltd. show.

“ICBC is not the key to our interest in China, or the big reflection of it,” Blankfein, 58, said in a Bloomberg Television interview with Erik Schatzker. “We’re investing in China because China -- I was going to say it’s the future, but it’s a big part of the present as well.”

Blankfein said earlier this month that this will probably be China’s century, even if it struggles in certain years. China’s economic growth slowed to 7.7 percent in the first quarter, and a report yesterday showed manufacturing is contracting in May for the first time in seven months.

Goldman Sachs served as a “quasi-strategic” partner for ICBC as the Chinese government took its banking industry public, Blankfein said in the interview.

“Through that investment, we became very close with important people in the banking system, and we maintain that relationship today,” he said.

Utah Expansion

Blankfein spoke from Salt Lake City, which is Goldman Sachs’s second-largest location in the U.S. and where it is having its annual shareholder meeting. The bank has tripled the size of its workforce in Utah’s capital over the past five years, and Blankfein said at a May 22 event that it expects to have 1,700 employees in Salt Lake City by the end of 2013.

The bank has shifted more of its staff to what it calls high-value locations in an effort to cut costs. About 22 percent of Goldman Sachs employees work in such places, which also include Dallas and Singapore, up from 10 percent in 2007. That figure may rise to 30 percent, Blankfein said.

“It started out that we talked about what the savings were,” Blankfein said. “This really morphed into where can you get talent. If you look at here, we have almost every division of the firm represented here.”

Investment banks will have to raise prices for some products or services to account for the greater amount of equity capital regulators are requiring to support the business, Blankfein said. While the financing business is currently going “very well” and the world economy appears “growthier,” he said he was surprised by the lack of mergers and acquisitions.

“In the big transaction and M&A set, it’s still a very quiet, surprisingly quiet market,” Blankfein said. “For a market in which interest rates are fairly low, rising equity prices, and as much liquidity as we know exists, deal flow is unusually low for the part of the cycle that we’re in.”

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