Goldman Partners Profit From No-Fee Private-Equity FundsMichael J. Moore
Of all the perks bestowed on those selected as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. partners this week, the most uncommon may be access to a private fund named for a street that stretches two blocks at the southern tip of Manhattan.
Goldman Sachs has brought back Bridge Street funds, which allow senior employees to invest alongside the bank in closely held companies without having to pay fees. First offered when the firm was a true partnership before going public in 1999, Bridge Street was restarted in 2011. This year’s fund raised more than $120 million from about half of the 400 partners.
Employee private-equity funds are one of the extras that make rewards at Goldman Sachs the envy of Wall Street. Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein received $125.9 million from the funds in the past five years, more than he was awarded in salary and bonuses over the same period, filings show.
“It’s consistent with Goldman’s past DNA and the DNA they want to have going forward,” said Alan Johnson, founder of New York-based compensation-consulting firm Johnson Associates Inc. “The big banks are no longer the pay leaders, no longer the masters of the universe, so they’ve got to be more creative.”
Andrea Raphael, a spokeswoman for Goldman Sachs, declined to comment on the funds.
Goldman Sachs offered Bridge Street funds until 2000, before dropping that model in favor of allowing employees to invest in specific private-equity and debt funds it raised for clients, such as the $20 billion GS Capital Partners VI in 2007. The opportunity, which in some years attracted more than $1 billion, encouraged employee retention and was a built-in seeding method for new ventures.
The bank didn’t offer employees any funds in 2009 and 2010 in the wake of the financial crisis and amid criticism of Wall Street compensation practices.
The Volcker Rule -- passed as part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act -- limited the amount of money banks could put into their private-equity funds. As Goldman Sachs replaced stakes in funds with investments in companies made solely with its own money, it went back to the standalone employee funds.
This year, the New York-based bank also reactivated Stone Street, a fund offered to the firm’s more than 2,000 managing directors, those employees one rung below the ceremonial title of partner. That fund raised at least $57 million, bringing the total contributed by employees to more than $178 million, about three times as much as in 2011, according to filings.
Stone Street is one block north of Bridge Street in Manhattan’s financial district. Both are near Goldman Sachs’s former headquarters at 85 Broad St.
The Bridge Street and Stone Street funds are managed by Goldman Sachs’s merchant-banking division, which is led by Richard Friedman and also runs the firm’s client funds. The bank typically doesn’t charge partners management fees or overrides, the manager’s cut of gains, often called carried interest.
The employee funds raise questions about conflicts of interest similar to those posed by the firm’s principal investments. Goldman Sachs hasn’t disclosed the criteria it uses to decide when to invest client funds in a company versus using its own balance sheet or employee funds.
“The negative of things like this is clients always wonder if you’re saving the best stuff for yourselves,” Johnson said. “So you’ve got to be careful with that and let them know that clients either come first or are beside us in the deals, but we’re not ahead of the clients.”
Goldman Sachs also often serves as underwriter on IPOs for companies in which it has invested, leading competitors to question whether the firm will push for a higher price than the market would dictate.
Banks including Morgan Stanley and Citigroup Inc. haven’t made private-equity funds broadly available to employees since 2008. Those two firms offered funds before the financial crisis in which it leveraged employee contributions by lending $2 to the fund for every $1 committed, allowing bankers to benefit from profits made beyond the cost of the loan.
Goldman Sachs’s employee funds are modeled on those of hedge funds and asset-management firms, which often reinvest a portion of annual bonuses in their funds, said Ilana Weinstein, founder of New York-based recruiting firm IDW Group LLC.
The efforts might not be enough to stem defections of some traders seeking higher pay and less regulation, Weinstein said. The average amount Goldman Sachs set aside last year for compensation per employee was $383,374, down from $661,490 in 2007. The firm’s partners typically receive a $900,000 salary and often earn many times that in bonuses.
“If the objective is to try to retain senior people from leaving to go to the buy side, the structure is similar to what goes on in asset-management land, but the absolute dollar numbers are going to be smaller,” Weinstein said. “I don’t know if you stay just because you can participate in those funds.”
Goldman Sachs’s eligible workers are alerted to the funds early in the year as they learn their bonus amounts, according to current and former employees who asked not to be identified talking about compensation policies. They can choose to set aside a portion of their bonus to invest in the funds, and the money is put to use over several years.
The newest partners will be notified of their selection tomorrow morning by Blankfein and President Gary D. Cohn, according to a person briefed on the process.
Even with the recent increases in contributions, the amount invested by Goldman Sachs employees pales compared with the pre-crisis funds. Bankers at the firm contributed more than $1.5 billion to employee funds tied to Capital Partners VI in 2007 and more than $1 billion to funds tied to Capital Partners V two years earlier, filings show.
The reduction may be because the financial crisis exposed the risks of investing in the funds. Some that invested alongside real estate funds before the housing market collapsed lost money. The funds also aren’t liquid. General Counsel Greg Palm and Jon Winkelried, then co-president of the firm with Cohn, found that out when they needed cash in late 2008. The firm ended up buying their stakes.
Still, individual contributions have been capped because demand for the funds often outpaced their targeted size. Contributions are locked up for several years and distributions can continue over more than a decade.
Former CEO Hank Paulson had between $3.6 million and $7.6 million in 22 Bridge Street and Stone Street funds from the 1990s and 2000 as of the end of 2005, according to public financial disclosures from when he became U.S. Treasury Secretary the following year.
While the firm doesn’t provide details of the funds’ performance, bankers who have participated said that previous employee funds have performed well, in some cases more than doubling the amount invested.
Blankfein, 60, has received $173.4 million from employee funds in the past 12 years. Palm and Cohn also have received more than $100 million of distributions. Goldman Sachs doesn’t disclose how much of that is profit and how much return of invested capital.
The return to employee-only funds eliminates one added bonus from the previous structure: Bankers who invested in the earlier funds also received a share of the fees that the firm charges outside clients. Blankfein and Palm, the two largest investors in employee funds among the firm’s officers, have received more than $9 million of such gains since 2008.
The recent funds have made several profitable investments.
Bridge Street 2011 funds were involved in a buyout that year by Goldman Sachs and Warburg Pincus LLC of Endurance International Group Holdings Inc., one of the world’s largest website-hosting companies. Burlington, Massachusetts-based Endurance went public last year, and the stake held by Bridge Street funds has gained more than 40 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
In March 2013, that year’s Bridge Street fund made a preferred investment alongside Goldman Sachs in Lexington, Massachusetts-based T2 Biosystems Inc., a maker of diagnostic instruments for detection of infectious diseases. Seventeen months later, Goldman Sachs and Bridge Street bought more stock in T2’s IPO. The fund’s total investment of $4.34 million has increased more than 50 percent in value, based on yesterday’s closing price.
Bridge Street funds also own preferred shares in iKang Healthcare Group Inc., a Beijing-based company that provides health-care services to corporations, and have stakes in credit-reporting company TransUnion Corp., Indian cable-television operator DEN Networks Ltd. and Interline Brands Inc., which sells plumbing and air conditioning products.
“Historically these kinds of funds have done well,” said Johnson, the pay consultant. “And even when they haven’t done well, people kind of sucked it up and didn’t complain.”
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