Goldman Sachs Group Inc. slimmed down in 2016 -- and not just because the Trump administration was recruiting.
The New York-based bank reported fourth-quarter earnings on Wednesday that beat Wall Street expectations, helped in part by cost-saving measures that included lowering headcount by 500 positions. The decline brought reductions for the year to 2,400, or 7 percent of staff -- more than its peers.
It's notable that the two banks that led the way in job cuts were Goldman and Citigroup Inc., which separately on Wednesday delivered fourth-quarter profit that also topped analysts' projections. And it may have been the expectation of declining revenue that prompted the duo to take the action they did:
Still, even with the staff cuts, Goldman's compensation ratio ticked up to 38.1 percent from 37.5 percent a year earlier. KBW analyst Brian Kleinhanzl expects it to reverse course in coming years to 37 percent and 36.7 percent in 2017 and 2018, respectively. And if fee income from areas such as trading, investment banking and lending surges, Goldman's compensation ratio could decline even further, bringing it closer in line with Citigroup at 30 percent and JPMorgan Chase & Co. at 31.3 percent.
As well as continuing to whittle down staff as necessary, Goldman also should continue reining in non-compensation expenses, including spending on training, technology and legal costs, among other things. That figure dropped to $8.7 billion in 2016, which president, Co-Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer Harvey Schwartz says was its lowest level since 2007. Incoming CFO Martin Chavez should aim to keep an equally tight -- or tighter -- grip on purse strings.
In terms of outlook, Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein said Wednesday he expects two to three rate hikes in 2017, which is in line with consensus and should lead to higher profits at all the big Wall Street firms. Citigroup, on the other hand, is forecasting a base case of zero rate hikes. Keeping costs in line should be a priority, especially considering that some of the rosier forecasts for a revenue lift from rising rates as well as looser regulation, potential tax reform, and economic growth may not quite pan out as planned.
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