Goldman and BP suffer costly reputational hangover
It’s nearly over. Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs has settled fraud allegations with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission with a $550 million slap on the wrist. BP has shown it can halt the flow of oil from its bust well in the Gulf of Mexico, giving confidence to recent research that the leak could cost the UK oil group less than $30 billion. But shareholders have paid a far heavier price for these episodes than the quantifiable damage suggests. That deficit has one obvious explanation: the cost of reputational damage.
Take Goldman. Its shares rose only modestly on Thursday’s deal with the regulator, leaving its market capitalisation at $74.8 billion, 21 percent lower than its value on April 15, the last day before the SEC filed charges. Almost half of that is attributable to the fall in global equity markets, taking the MSCI World Index as a benchmark. After backing out the paltry fine, there is $9.7 billion of value destruction to explain — 11 percent of Goldman’s value adjusted for falling markets.
It’s a similar story at BP. The group is worth 77.6 billion pounds, 36 percent less than its value before the Gulf well blew on April 20. Adjust for the fall in global markets over the course of the spill, and back out 19 billion pounds for the latest estimate of the known costs of the clean up and compensation, and there’s still 16.1 billion pounds of value destruction to account for. That is 14 percent of BP’s adjusted market value.
It would be too crude to conclude from this analysis that reputation is worth about 12.5 percent of market cap, or that BP somehow has a higher “reputational beta” than Goldman. Both companies face continuing business challenges arising from the episodes, and the UK oil group’s predicament is still much more uncertain than Goldman’s.
But what is clear is that reputation has huge value. Companies need to guard it more vigilantly.