Crypto needs an antagonist, right?
Until recently, that role seemed to be filled by JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who, as recently as 2017, called bitcoin "a fraud" and said he would fire "in a second" anyone at JPMorgan found to be trading in the digital currency. "You can't have a business where people can invent a currency out of thin air and think that people who are buying it are really smart,” he told The Guardian.
Ever since the nation's largest bank this month revealed it is extending banking services to bitcoin exchanges Gemini and Coinbase, perhaps crypto enthusiasts have felt a void in the shape of a prominent detractor.
Bitcoin enthusiasts' hopes were high over speculation Goldman Sachs might endorse cryptocurrencies in a report on the state of the economy. Instead, the investment bank seemed to reverse course again and blasted the digital tokens over their volatility, labeling them unsuitable investments for the bank’s clients.
"We do not recommend Bitcoin on a strategic or tactical basis for clients' investment portfolios even though its volatility might lend itself to momentum oriented traders," said the report, which Goldman Sachs' chief economist, Jan Hatzius, discussed Wednesday on a call heard by Bloomberg.
The bank laid out its reservations regarding cryptocurrencies in bullet points on a slide, asserting that the digital tokens don’t generate cash flow like bonds, don't generate earnings through exposure to global economic growth, don’t offer consistent diversification benefits and don’t show evidence of hedging inflation.
The biggest gripe, however, appears to be the currencies' volatility. Goldman singled out bitcoin, noting the price of the token fell 37% in one day — March 12 — as the World Health Organization’s labeling of the coronavirus as a pandemic prompted a mass sell-off. In all, bitcoin’s value is up 30% this year but half what it was at its 2017 peak, according to Bloomberg.
"We believe that a security whose appreciation is primarily dependent on whether someone is willing to pay a higher price for it is not a suitable investment for our clients," Goldman Sachs wrote.
Analysts such as Mati Greenspan, founder of Quantum Economics, took a somewhat cynical view of the bank's stance. "Perhaps Goldman is just trying to jawbone Bitcoin to buy more for themselves at a cheaper price," Greenspan wrote in a note, according to Bloomberg, calling the presentation "a cold dish [served] to the crypto community, which was largely expecting them" to be more "bullish" on the currency.
The crypto community and Goldman appear to be fine without each other. Gemini announced Thursday that it is partnering with Samsung to let U.S. and Canadian customers view their balances in the South Korean tech giant's blockchain wallet app. Customers who want to trade will be directed to Gemini’s mobile app, but won't have to go through another login.
"It's a full integration between the two apps that's very transparent and very easy to use," Jeanine Hightower-Sellitto, Gemini's managing director of operations, told Bloomberg.
Goldman, for its part, is on track to hit a number of the medium- and long-term goals it set for itself in January, bank President John Waldron said at an investor conference Wednesday, according to Reuters. Those goals include a 60% efficiency ratio, a 13% return on equity and a return on tangible equity higher than 14%.
The bank is growing faster than expected in other silos, Waldron said. Goldman's cash management business has more than doubled — to $20 billion in deposits — since the end of March. Deposits at the digital bank Marcus grew by $8 billion — to $80 billion — in the same time frame. And Goldman has raised $20 billion this year for its private equity business, putting it well ahead of its five-year target of $100 billion.
However, the bank is postponing until 2021 the launch of its planned digital wealth management platform and slowing its hiring of advisers. "While we continue to pursue growth in our overall wealth franchise, we are acting prudently in the current environment," Waldron said, according to the Financial Times.
The coronavirus may ultimately help Goldman save money by accelerating its plan to put more of its employees to work in lower-cost cities such as Dallas, Salt Lake City, Warsaw and Bengaluru. The bank said in January that it eventually wanted 40% of its staff working from those locations. The rapid adoption of remote work appears to have hastened the process.
Waldron said he was "anxious to get some of our people starting to come back to the offices," adding that collaboration and mentoring would be easier in that environment.
"While we are working from home, and it has gotten better than we might have expected, and we stood up the firm and the markets are functioning, I worry that it decays over time," he said, according to the Financial Times.
About half of the bank's workers have returned to offices in Hong Kong, South Korea and China. And about 10% have returned in continental Europe.