There's really little I can do after reading the earnings release from Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) this morning except shake my head. Amid difficult market conditions and every reasonable expectation that the firm would hit some bumps after outsized results over the past few years, Goldman knocked it out of the park. For the quarter, earnings per share came in at $6.13, 88% above the third quarter of 2006, 24% above the second quarter of 2007, and 41% above the consensus estimates of Wall Street analysts.
Earlier in the week, competitors Lehman Brothers (NYSE: LEH ) and Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS ) reported tepid results amid losses from the nastiness that unfolded in August. Lehman did manage to top analysts' estimates, but still produced earnings that were down 3% from the prior year.
To be sure, Goldman's quarter wasn't without its blemishes -- it would've been truly remarkable if it had come out completely unscathed. Net of hedges, the firm took a massive $1.5 billion loss on non-investment-grade credit origination, much larger than a similar charge that Morgan Stanley reported on Wednesday. Asset management also continued to struggle, and though incentive fees were up significantly from the second quarter, they were less than half the amount collected in the prior year. The firm also said it took "significant losses" in subprime loans and securities during the quarter.
On the flip side, the firm brought in a windfall $900 million during the quarter with the sale of its Horizon Wind Energy investment. Asset management was able to deliver results despite some poor fund performance -- $38 billion flowed into Goldman funds during the quarter and management fees were up 40% year over year. It was also able to "more than offset" those significant losses in subprime by taking short positions in the mortgage market. Contributing some major punch in the quarter were the equities division, which more than doubled revenue from the prior year, and investment banking, which increased revenue 67% thanks to a big jump in financial advisory fees.
From an investor's perspective, Goldman can be a tough business to evaluate because it is so opaque and there are so many moving parts. For that reason, there likely will be some desire to put a Barry Bonds-style asterisk next to Goldman's results. But asterisk or not, when a company has a slugging percentage like this, it's hard not to want it hitting home runs for your team.
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