Among those who believe that Goldman is basically the devil’s spawn, there’s of course only one answer to the above question: Yes! But there’s another group that seems to be asking the same question, and that’s investors.
Consider that in the past year, Goldman’s stock has fallen some 30 percent. It trades for just 0.7 times book value, which says that investors either think that Goldman can’t earn enough to cover its cost of capital, or that its assets are overstated or liabilities understated. Consider this: Except during the financial crisis, Goldman’s market capitalization was last around $50 billion back in the fall of 2005. Back then, Goldman had $670 billion in assets, and $27 billion in shareholders’ equity. Today, Goldman has $951 billion in assets, and $72 billion in shareholders’ equity.
Another way to think about Goldman’s valuation is that the firm effectively has $300 billion in cash and close cash equivalents on its balance sheet. You can get to that figure by adding cash, Level 1 assets, and Level 2 assets that could be easily liquidated. Goldman has total long-term and short-term debt of $220 billion, and a market value of $50 billion. In other words, the market is giving Goldman very little credit for the ongoing earnings of its business, and Goldman has a lot of dry powder relative to the opportunities it has. (A caveat: Goldman’s immense derivatives business would gobble up lots of cash were the firm to be hit with credit downgrades.)
Among its banking brethren, Goldman isn’t unique or even the worst off – Bank of America trades at about 60 percent of book value and Citigroup at just over 50 percent. Analysts question whether these banks can earn their cost of capital. Last month, Philip Purcell, the former CEO of Morgan Stanley – and the architect of the megamerger between Morgan Stanley and Dean Witter – wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal arguing that shareholders would get better value if the big banks broke themselves up. He chalked the sinking stocks up to the “mismatch” between volatile investment banking and trading businesses on the one hand, and “safer, more client-centric businesses” like asset management and banking and credit cards on the other hand. Others who have called for a breakup of the big banks cite the essential unmanageability of these giant, risky firms.
But Goldman hasn’t suffered the blatant management missteps of its peers, at least from a bottom-line perspective; moreover, it’s hard to see how splitting up is an option for Goldman. Unlike a Citi or a BofA, Goldman lacks the pieces in which to break. Although Goldman is now officially a bank, it doesn’t do much that resembles banking as we know it. True, Goldman does have an asset management business, but it has succeeded despite less-than-stellar performance. A good chunk of its value is precisely because it’s part of Goldman Sachs.