和纽约洋基队（New York Yankees）一样，高盛（Goldman Sachs）公司也是一个传奇。它是金融界最响亮的名号；虽然偶尔会让人失望，但这支明星团队战绩彪炳；而且它总能发掘出新的捞金手段。
现在，这家拥有145年历史的老字号投资银行成了华尔街的新闻焦点。无论新闻是正面还是负面，高盛依然牢牢吸引着人们的关注。有检举人指控高盛在纽约联储（New York Fed）获得了监管机构的特殊待遇，导致该公司遭到媒体的口诛笔伐。公众利益网站ProPublica的一篇报道则称，屈从于高盛的强大势力，联储官员未能阻止一些利润巨大的可疑交易，但是高盛对此则极力否认。与此同时，该公司最近监管了阿里巴巴（Alibaba）历史性IPO的早期交易，再次证明了自己的地位。
“和过去相比，他们现在的管理方式非常保守，还要等几年才能知道他们对新环境适应的怎么样。”投资管理公司Farr, Miller & Washington的基金经理基思•戴维斯说道。该公司持有价值2,000万美元的高盛股份。
不过，这也还不算坏。下降的主要原因是新的法规要求所有银行降低杠杆。高盛过去每一美元的股本可支持20美元的资产；现在一美元的净值只能支持10.50美元的资产。这是好事，因为它可以减轻高负债水平造成的巨大回报波动。在一个投资10年期美国国债只能获得2.5%收益率的时期，10-11%的净资产收益率看起来也不错。而且高盛的净资产收益率和竞争对手相比仍有优势。虽然不及富国银行（Wells Fargo，净资产收益率13.6%）和美国合众银行（US Bancorp，净资产收益率12%），但是明显优于摩根大通（JP Morgan，净资产收益率8.3%）、花旗银行（Citigroup，净资产收益率6.7%）和摩根士丹利（Morgan Stanley，净资产收益率6.5%）。
Goldman Sachs enjoys a mystique rivaling the élan of the New York Yankees. It’s the classiest name in the financial leagues; a sterling organization that may disappoint now and then, but whose heavy hitters you shouldn’t bet against; and the ultimate improviser in finding fresh ways to make money.
Right now, the fabled 145-year old investment bank is leading the news on Wall Street. For good or ill, Goldman remains an object of intense fascination. It’s getting pounded in the press over a whistleblower’s charges that it received special treatment from regulators at the New York Fed. According to a story on the public interest website ProPublica, Fed officials were so intimidated by the Goldman brass that they failed to block transactions that were as suspicious as they were lucrative—allegations Goldman vehemently denies. At the same time, Goldman recently confirmed its stature by overseeing early trading for Alibaba’s historic IPO.
But how good, really, is Goldman Sachs? An analysis of its recent performance reveals that, for the present at least, Goldman is nowhere near the champion of old. Its record ranks somewhere between pretty good and mediocre. Its businesses, and the environment in which it operates, have shifted dramatically, and not in Goldman’s favor. The kind of adventurous investments that once swelled its earnings are now off-limits.
“In contrast to the past, they’re being extremely conservative in the way they’re managing, and it will take a couple of years to see how they adapt to the new environment,” says Keith Davis, a portfolio manager with Farr, Miller & Washington, which holds $20 million in Goldman shares.
The fear is that Goldman has run out of moves.
Goldman’s path forward is restricted by two barriers. First, its main franchise is now trading, a business that, for the time being, isn’t terribly profitable. The dominance of trading—making markets in stocks, bonds, commodities and currencies—represents a sharp break with the past. In 2000, 60% of its sales came from advising on mergers and acquisitions, raising money for corporations, and asset management. In 2013, those high-margin businesses accounted for just 37% of Goldman’s $34 billion in revenues. So the mix is now tilted toward a field that’s depressed, where a long-awaited rebound just isn’t happening.
Second, Goldman has traditionally generated big profits from “principal investments,” using its own capital to trade in and out of stocks, take ownership positions in companies, and invest in private equity and hedge funds. The Volcker Rule, a pillar of the Dodd-Frank banking reform legislation, bans proprietary trading and severely restricts the investments banks can make. This formerly lucrative channel is now mostly closed to Goldman.
As a result, Goldman’s profitability has suffered. From 2005 to 2007, Goldman delivered a spectacular return on equity of, on average, 28.4%. Since then, the bank has enjoyed just one excellent year. That was 2009, when markets began to thaw after the financial crisis and investors dumped bonds en masse, handing Goldman both huge volumes of trades and fantastic margins, or “spreads,” on those trades. Since 2012, its ROE has dropped to an average of 10.5% to 11%.
Still, that’s not bad. A major reason for the decline: new regulations have forced all banks to lower their leverage. Goldman used to support $20 in assets with every dollar of equity; today, a dollar in net worth backs just $10.50 in assets. That’s a good thing, since it should smooth the big swings in returns caused by high levels of debt. An ROE in the 10% to 11% range also looks good in a period where investors pocket just 2.5% on 10-year Treasury bonds. And Goldman’s ROE compares favorably to its rivals. Though it trails Wells Fargo (13.6%) and US Bancorp (12%), it waxes JP Morgan (8.3%), Citigroup (6.7%), and Morgan Stanley (6.5%).