Can Goldman Keep Its Luster?

I know that it gets a little old talking about "best of breed" all the time. Then again, it's a point that often bears repeating -- good companies are the ones that do better over the long haul. And so while Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) might be heading toward some rougher waters in the short run, it's tough for me to see how the company won't end up on the long-term Wall Street winners' list.

Although Goldman did report a quarter that was exceptionally strong on a year-over-year basis, revenues were down sequentially. That year-over-year growth of 110% was again fueled by the trading operations, where revenue was up about 147% overall, with another strong performance in the fixed income, commodity, and currency segment, helped by a gain from the sale of a power plant. Once again, expenses remained under control relative to revenue, and earnings growth exceeded revenue growth (even without one-time gains).

I thought it interesting that VAR (value at risk) once again rose sharply. While the year-over-year increase was outweighed by the year-over-year increase in revenue from trading, there was also a big sequential jump. For better or worse, this is a double-edged sword.

Goldman makes a lot of money from trading, and it stands to reason that you'd want to put more money on the line when you're doing well. Of course, if Goldman's golden touch suddenly vanishes, that growing risk profile is going to come back to bite it.

And that isn't the only risk facing Goldman these days. As most readers probably know, the company's CEO left to become the next Treasury secretary in the Bush administration -- a position starting to look a little bit like the Spinal Tap drummer. While I have nothing against Lloyd C. Blankfein, the man who will replace him at the top, and while Goldman is purportedly built around the "everybody's replaceable" mentality, transitions can still be squirrelly.

When I talked about Lehman Brothers (NYSE: LEH  ) yesterday, I said that I saw no reason to buy it ahead of Goldman. And I say that again today. Though I won't be buying these shares myself, I certainly wouldn't argue with buy-and-hold investors who want to maintain a position in a company that's proved itself to be among the best at what it does.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).


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