SRI Investors: Give Goldman Sachs Another Chance

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As the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, came to an end on Saturday, one of the more lighthearted stories to emerge was that Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) CEO Lloyd Blankfein was seen sporting facial hair. "I always had a beard on vacation," the normally smooth-faced and smooth-headed Blankfein told CNBC last Friday, "and I'd think to myself, 'Gosh, wouldn't it just prolong the vacation if I kept the beard?'"

Gosh indeed. As good a story as the beard expose is, I think the far better but far less reported Goldman story to come out of Davos is Blankfein's reason for being there in the first place: to discuss 10,000 Women, Goldman's $100 million initiative to help female entrepreneurs around the world learn more about running and managing their fledgling businesses. 

Wall Street helping women
10,000 Women is the sister program to 10,000 Small Businesses: Goldman's $500 billion initiative to "help small businesses create jobs and economic opportunity by providing them with greater access to business education, financial capital, and business support services."

10,000 Women takes a women-focused, global perspective to the issue of job creation. Per the Goldman website, the program helps "grow local economies and bring about greater shared prosperity by providing 10,000 underserved women-entrepreneurs with a business and management education, access to mentors and networks and links to capital." It accomplishes this through:

  • A network of more than 80 academic and nonprofit institutions that help develop locally relevant coursework and improve the quality and capacity of business education worldwide.
  • Customized certificate programs in marketing, accounting, business-plan writing, and accessing capital -- all ranging from five weeks to six months.
  • Mentoring and "post-graduate support" conducted by partner institutions, local businesses, as well as the people of Goldman Sachs.

10,000 Women is a five-year initiative that started in 2008. It operates in 43 locations and has 89 partners, including the Clinton Global Initiative, London Business School, the Aspen Institute, and the George W. Bush Institute. It's a serious socially responsible initiative from the last company you'd probably expect.

By the numbers
That covers the social responsibility portion of today's presentation on Goldman, but what about the bank's performance as a business? A company can be the most socially responsible organization on the planet, but if it isn't putting up stellar numbers as a business, it can hardly be promoted as a savvy overall investment. Luckily for Goldman Sachs, business performance isn't an issue. Have you seen the bank's fourth-quarter results?

  • Profit of $2.89 billion, versus $1.01 billion for the fourth quarter of 2011, for a year-over-year increase of 186%.
  • Net revenue of $9.24 billion, for a YOY increase of 53%.
  • An annualized return on equity of 16.5%.  

Oh, and if you bought Goldman stock at the beginning of 2012 and held onto it for the entire year, you saw a return of 33.7% . Goldman came out of the financial crisis in better shape than most, but like all the other big banks, it's had to adapt to life in the post Dodd-Frank world, and find ways to make money aside from placing bets with its own money, which the Volcker Rule heavily restricts. Not every bank is doing it, but Goldman clearly is.

Keep up the good work, Lloyd
I made my first pitch for Goldman as a socially responsible investment several months ago, when I stumbled across the 10,000 Small Businesses initiative. Given the bank's reputation as a greedy, evil money-making machine, I expect I raised a few eyebrows in my pitch, and I expect I'll raise a few again this time.

But programs like 10,000 Women can do serious good. And even if there is a public-relations aspect driving the bank's pursuit of initiatives like this, that's OK with me: $100,000 million is no small chunk of change, and it can make a real difference out there for people around the world. Keep up the good work, Goldman -- from an SRI and a business perspective -- and I'll keep singing your praises. 

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