Goldman's Gold Rush Continues

Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) showed Wall Street analysts that the party isn't over yet. Again.

In each of the past four quarters, as analysts continued to project a slowdown for the firm, Goldman has beaten the average earnings estimate on Wall Street. For the prior three quarters, it did this by around 10%, but for the quarter announced today, the firm crushed estimates by 36%.

Revenue for the quarter came in 23% higher than the prior year, and earnings per share grew an even faster 31%. Business was strong across just about all of Goldman's businesses, particularly trading and principal investments, which grew 35% year over year and 42% sequentially -- though $500 million of that was due to implementing SFAS 157 valuation rules. Investment banking also had a strong quarter, and backlog continues to grow.

If there's an area of concern, it could be asset management, where incentive fees were down sharply over the prior year. Though this was partly due to the fact that 2005 was a tremendous year for Goldman's funds, its rock star hedge fund, Global Alpha, struggled in 2006, and unless performance ticks back up, it could have an effect on fund flows.

While CFO David Viniar stayed true to his "I'm no fortune teller" mantra and maintained that conditions could change quickly, he did point out on the conference call that the conditions he believes have led to Goldman's current success are still in place.

Soothing subprime
As expected, the question of subprime came up during the conference call. And why shouldn't it? Goldman was one of the firms cited as cutting off funding to the nearly defunct New Century (NYSE: NEW  ) , and on top of that, the firm was a 5% holder of New Century in December.

Viniar didn't go out of his way to talk up the housing market or the subprime market itself. What he did say was that Goldman's exposure to mortgages is moderately sized, and the group includes areas other than residential mortgages. As of the first quarter -- which ended Feb. 23 -- Goldman didn't have any significant subprime writedowns, though Viniar declined to comment on what has happened since then. He also said that conditions for debt financing in general continue to be sanguine, and the problems in subprime don't seem to be spreading to other areas of credit.

Setting that bar
All in all, Goldman came through again this quarter, and it has once again set the bar high for the upcoming results from competitors Lehman Brothers (NYSE: LEH  ) and Bear Stearns (NYSE: BSC  ) . What's up for argument, though, is whether investors are even going to care. Though the numbers were nice, all eyes seem to be focused on events that have been unfolding after the quarter ended.

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Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer owns shares of Goldman Sachs, but does not own shares of any of the other companies mentioned. You can visit Matt on CAPS here, or check out his CAPS blog here. The Fool's disclosure policy is as good as gold.


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