Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is embarking on its biggest cost-cutting push in years as it tries to weather a slump in trading and dealmaking, according to two people with knowledge of the effort.
The firm, already expected to report a steep drop in expenses for the first quarter, recently began dismissing more support staff and is increasingly rejecting bankers’ spending on airfare, hotels and entertainment unless it directly serves clients, the people said. For example, the company cut technology workers in London this week, one person said, and some employees in Europe aren’t being permitted to take once-routine trips to other offices in the region, said another. Additional cuts are likely.
Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein, 61, is trying to ride out a years-long bond-trading slump that’s being compounded by market swings and stiffer regulations -- challenges that have forced many competitors to scale back. He already has adjusted his workforce, relying more on junior bankers, moving support staff to cheaper locations and investing in technology to improve productivity.
The question is whether his efforts will be enough to satisfy investors when the bank reports quarterly results Tuesday. Betsy Graseck, a Morgan Stanley analyst, estimates Goldman Sachs will say operating expenses declined 29 percent to $4.76 billion -- the lowest for the start of a fiscal year in a decade. Still, that’s not as steep as the 37 percent drop in revenue that analysts anticipate.
At a conference in February, Blankfein reassured investors that he’s keeping an “eagle eye” on expenses and that the firm had more flexibility to reduce them. “We can do a lot more on the cost side if we have to,” he said. “We can always do more. I mean, necessity really is the mother of invention in this case, especially when you have to deliver a return.”
Cost reductions may also come from deferring projects, choosing not to fill open positions and spending less on printing pitch books or brochures, another person said, asking not to be identified discussing internal deliberations.
Ultimately, the latest push to reduce expenses probably will amount to the biggest since 2011, or possibly even earlier, the people said. In July of that year, the bank announced an initiative to trim more than $1 billion in costs including compensation, a plan that entailed cutting 1,000 jobs. By year-end, expenses had dropped 14 percent from the previous year.
The company held operating expenses below $23 billion for four years before they rose 13 percent to $25 billion in 2015. Litigation and regulatory costs drove the increase.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp., which reported first-quarter results this week, countered their own revenue declines with cost cuts that went deeper than analysts expected. “There’s a lot more to do,” Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan told analysts Thursday of his focus on expenses.