Goldman Can't Catch a Break

Far from offending pundits only, revelations that the firm plays favorites with clients may hurt the bank's bottom line.

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For a company attempting to improve its public image, Goldman Sachs is not catching any tailwinds. Today, the Wall Street Journal reports that the bank holds "trading huddles" that give first dibs on otherwise unseen trading advice to its favorite clients. If not quite illegal, it smacks of unfairness and bad business to many commentators. When will the bad press stop? With Goldman coming off a quarter with $3.44 billion in profit, public disapproval alone won't be enough to rain on the bank's parade, but client anger could.

A few financial writers defend the practice, saying favoritism with major investors is to be expected, even if frowned upon. Here are two opinions for and against Goldman's questionable trading practices.

  • Borderline Illegal says Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism. "Goldman appears to have pushed the boundaries yet again. Putting the prop traders with the top accounts onto hot trading ideas (by implication, everyone knows GS intends to pile in, hence it is safe for the big accounts to throw their weight int) smells like an organized ramp of a stock."
  • Asking for Trouble says Douglas A. McIntyre at Daily Finance. "What will Goldman's 'tin ear' cost it? Perhaps a great deal. Regulators are still anxious to make an example of Wall Street excesses to prove that they have the teeth to succeed were they failed when the credit crisis began. Goldman is the perfect target and it seems to hurt its own cause with each passing day."
  • Not a Shock, Not a Problem rebuts Peter Thal Larsen at Reuters. "In any other industry, a company giving favourable treatment to its best customers would stand accused of nothing more than sound business practice.... Whatever rules regulators devise, it is hard to expect Goldman, or any other investment bank, not to give preferential treatment to big clients."
  • Much Ado About Nothing yawns Barry Ritholtz at the Big Picture. "I am no GS fanboy, but unless its inside information, how they distribute their calls is their business. For those that don't like it, I suggest you take your business elsewhere."

During the depths of the populist outcry against Goldman--at its worst earlier in the summer--their natural defense was to say that the only thing that mattered was pleasing their clients. If nothing has come of bashing Goldman yet, this might be the first time the firm's image problem comes to haunt them where it hurts.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.