(From the Economist - bold parts are my emphasis)
It has been a year to make even Croesus blush for the big Wall Street securities firms. Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, Morgan Stanley and Lehman Brothers have all announced record profits and beaten analysts’ expectations in the process. Bloomberg, a financial-information firm, calculates that the industry will make $29.1 billion after tax in fiscal 2006, a 43% rise on last year, which was itself a bumper one. New York’s tabloids have had a field day, splashing headlines like “Sachs of Loot” and fantasising about all the things outsized bonuses could buy.
Goldman, the best performer, is setting aside an unprecedented $16.5 billion to reward its talent, equal to $620,000 per employee across the firm. But it is now so profitable that the ratio of pay to revenue has actually fallen, to 43.7%, well below the 50% seen as a ceiling in the industry. And on Tuesday November 19th Goldman revealed that the bank’s boss, Lloyd Blankfein, would pocket $53.4m this year. This paypacket broke an industry record set only last week at Morgan Stanley—its chief, John Mack, will get around $40m for his work in 2006. The huge sums of cash and the attendant publicity prompted Mr Blankfein to call for humility as his troops reflect on their stellar year.
The banks can thank near-perfect markets for their good fortune. Mergers and private equity are booming, as are stockmarkets (the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit another record high on Tuesday). Volatility is low, credit still plentiful. Hedge funds and others are trading derivatives at a furious pace, providing a further lift to the banks’ prime-brokerage businesses. In these conditions, the banks have (so far) profited handsomely from ratcheting up their own risk-taking. Across the industry, value-at-risk—a measure of potential losses on a bad trading day—has risen steadily. Some 70% of Goldman’s net revenues now come from trading and investing on its own account.