By Lauren Tara LaCapra
On a conference call to discuss Goldman Sachs’ new chief financial officer yesterday, an analyst asked departing CFO David Viniar why he was leaving when the stock is at a historic low.
Viniar avoided the question by joking that his successor, Harvey Schwartz, would trump that performance. But some investors think they have a better way to fix Goldman’s stock slump: cut back further on comp.
Goldman has brought compensation costs down, in part, by firing, nudging into retirement, or happily accepting the resignation of people who make a whole lot of money. (Viniar, whose salary clocked in at $15.8 million last year, is among that group.) Overall, the bank reduced comp costs by $3.2 billion last year and has cut 3,400 staffers from its payroll since the end of 2010.
But some shareholders think Goldman should be doing even more.
One prominent investor who focuses on financial stocks said Goldman is facing “the Lazard problem” — a culture where employees expect to get paid a lot, and will leave if they don’t. But, he says, management is not seeing things the same way as shareholders because they have fared much better financially, even in bad times.
To illustrate this gap, he compared return-on-equity for common shareholders against compensation as portion of common equity. (For ROE, he divided pretax earnings by common shareholder equity and for the compensation measure, he adjusted pay for estimated tax costs and divided that by common shareholder equity.)