I may have temporarily run out of clever ways to use Goldman Sachs' (NYSE: GS ) name to tout its success, but that doesn't make me any less amazed with the year the firm has had.
As I previously noted, the market has had plenty of time to digest the good news that was expected to come in Goldman's fourth quarter. That meant that by the time Goldman actually released results, investors were free to be upset by cautious comments by the firm's CFO and find ways to nitpick the results.
The results, of course, were very good. For the full year, investment banking and trading, particularly in equities, were gangbusters. As has been widely discussed, Goldman has been particularly deft at sidestepping the fire and brimstone that has been raining down on many of its competitors, like Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS ) , Citigroup (NYSE: C ) , and Bear Stearns (NYSE: BSC ) .
Not everything was ice cream and puppy dogs for Goldman, of course. Though its asset management arm was up slightly compared to 2006, some of its funds have continued to struggle, and incentive fees dropped drastically.
You can read about the details of the quarter in Goldman's earnings release or any number of other news releases. But what I found particularly notable was the aggressive buybacks the firm made over the course of the year. During 2007, Goldman spent nearly $9 billion buying back more than 41 million of its own shares.
The cynical mind might suggest that Goldman's executives see value in buying back shares simply because it benefits their tens of millions of dollars' worth of option holdings. A write-up in The Wall Street Journal suggested that the buybacks were a mistake, since they were conducted at an average price well above the current price. I see it a little differently. I find it hard to believe that a firm lauded for its financial prowess -- and for knowing it was time to zag when everyone else kept right on zigging -- would so badly misjudge the value of its own stock. In other words, I see Goldman's buying as a very bullish signal on its stock.
Goldman's not done, either. As it also disclosed in its earnings report, the firm's board has authorized an additional 60-million-share buyback, bringing the total current authorization to 71.4 million shares. So while the market may not be in agreement about Goldman's shares, at least we know where Goldman stands.
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