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Profits surge at Goldman Sachs on Wall Street revival

Profits at Goldman Sachs (GS) rose 28% in the first quarter as investment banking revenues surged, giving CEO David Solomon some needed momentum at the start of 2024.

Net income was $4.1 billion, beating analyst expectations. Its revenues of $14.2 billion also surged from a year ago, thanks in part to a 32% rise in investment banking fees. Asset and wealth management revenues jumped, as did trading.

Investors cheered the news and sent Goldman's stock up 3% on a day when the S&P 500 fell.

The improved results follow a year that was the most challenging for Solomon since 2019, his first full year in charge.

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Dealmaking slowed across Wall Street, and Solomon grappled with a costly exit from consumer banking and a series of high-profile departures from the firm.

"I've said before that historically depressed levels of activity wouldn't last forever," Solomon told analysts Monday, adding that "it's clear that we're in the early stages of a reopening of capital markets."

David M. Solomon, President and Chief Operating Officer, Goldman Sachs, speaks at the Milken Institute's 21st Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S. April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Goldman CEO David Solomon. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (REUTERS / Reuters)

The pressure on Solomon hasn’t let up in 2024. Two prominent proxy advisory firms are advising stockholders to cast votes this month that would limit the power of Solomon, with results due to be tallied at the company’s annual meeting on April 24.

The shareholder proposal that garnered a stamp of approval from Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass, Lewis & Co. would split the CEO and chairman roles, both currently occupied by Solomon. A similar proposal last year did not pass, winning only 16% of votes.

Glass Lewis is separately suggesting that stockholders also vote against Goldman’s executive pay plan due to a "significant disconnect between pay and performance." ISS provided "cautionary support" for the executive pay plan.

Solomon’s 2023 compensation rose 24% — to $31 million — despite a profit decline of the same amount.

Not only is that up from the $25 million he was awarded in 2022, it is more than his rivals Brian Moynihan, Charles Scharf, and Jane Fraser made at Bank of America (BAC), Wells Fargo (WFC), and Citigroup (C).

The first quarter results could help Solomon as he prepares to face shareholders later this month. The surge in investment banking included a 24% rise in advisory fees, a 38% jump in debt underwriting, and a 45% increase in equity underwriting fees.

Trading revenues from fixed income and equities were also both up 10% from a year ago.

"We feel very good about our first quarter results," Solomon told analysts. "This performance was aided by the swift actions we took last year to narrow our strategic focus and play to our core strengths."

A lot is still in flux at Goldman as key executives depart, raising new questions about the race to eventually succeed Solomon.

One surprise exit in 2024 is Jim Esposito, who had been co-head of Goldman’s global banking and markets division and is leaving after nearly three decades. Esposito had been viewed on Wall Street as among the possible successors to Solomon.

Another recent departure in March was Stephanie Cohen, global head of its platform solutions division.

Even the board of Goldman is changing. This year, ex-Goldman CFO David Viniar was appointed as the board’s lead director to replace Adebayo Ogunlesi, who announced he would step down after selling his infrastructure investment company to BlackRock.

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