Goldman Sachs made two critical admissions in its filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday.
First, the bank is expecting to incur $2.3 billion more than it had previously reserved for potential losses related to legal proceedings. Those matters include fallout connected to Goldman’s 1MDB scandal, class-action lawsuits related to the collapse of Archegos, investor suits against Robinhood and Silvergate in which Goldman served as an underwriter, and a 13-year case from three former employees alleging gender bias in pay and promotions. The latter is scheduled to go to trial in June.
Second, Goldman said Friday it is “cooperating with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other governmental bodies” in connection with investigations and inquiries into the bank’s credit card account management practices.
Neither of these revelations is revolutionary. For one, the $2.3 billion figure is slightly more than the $2 billion loss the bank projected in 2021, Reuters reported. But it tracks with a warning the bank issued in September.
The credit-card probe warning, too, has a paper trail. Goldman told investors in August that it was cooperating with a CFPB investigation into credit-card practices, including the application of refunds, crediting of nonconforming payments, billing error resolution, advertisements and reporting to credit bureaus.
The language in Friday’s warning is virtually the same, except the more recent note mentions the CFPB “and other governmental bodies.” Goldman’s filing does not detail which agencies that might cover.
But it may not be cause for alarm if the bank means the Federal Reserve. People with knowledge of the matter told Bloomberg in September and The Wall Street Journal last month that the Fed is investigating Goldman’s consumer business.
Regardless of how big a deal the legal losses or credit-card probe turn out to be, it’s worth noting another trend of Goldman, which could be termed “radical honesty Fridays.” (Why not? Citi had “Zoom-free Fridays.”)
“Transparency Fridays” may be a more accurate representation of Goldman’s efforts, even if it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
It could be argued that giving investors time to digest potentially sour news is a best practice. And the timing of Friday’s filing provides just that. Goldman no doubt is looking ahead to its investor day Tuesday and, in all likelihood, would be loath to break bad news there. Transparency Friday means, “Hey, high roller. We know. We’ve got you.”
This would hardly be the first time Goldman has tried to get ahead of the narrative before a weekend. The bank last month detailed $3 billion in losses stretching back to 2020 and assigned the shortfall to its Platform Solutions unit. That development also dropped on a Friday morning, ahead of a Tuesday earnings report.
News that Goldman had cut CEO David Solomon’s pay for 2022? Dropped on a Friday.
The August filing about the CFPB probe? Thursday. (No one’s perfect.)
Even rumors of shake-ups at Goldman drop on Fridays. The departure of the bank’s latest consumer-business chief? Reported on a Friday. The rumor that January’s job cuts would encompass 4,000 employees? Friday (and corrected on a Sunday). What is Goldman without the weekend? (Thirteen junior bankers will tell you.)
In defense of the bank, Goldman is not the only entity in the finance space prone to issuing headline-worthy material on Fridays. Ask the nonprofit Better Markets, which last year blasted the Federal Reserve for repeatedly publicizing its approval of bank mergers on Fridays at 4 p.m. (as in the case of the M&T-People’s United tie-up) or on the Friday before Christmas (as the central bank did in 2021 with Webster Bank’s acquisition of Sterling Bancorp; WSFS’s purchase of Bryn Mawr Trust; and the tie-up between First Citizens BancShares and CIT Group).
“This is becoming a disturbing pattern that undermines the credibility of the Federal Reserve. It opens the question — what is it trying to hide by releasing such important information at a time when it will get the least attention, media coverage, and scrutiny?” Phillip Basil, Better Markets’ former director of banking policy, said in March 2022. “Such end-of-week, late-in-the-day announcements are a disservice to the public and beneath the proper role of the Fed.”
(Basil, in a twist, would leave Better Markets in January 2023 to work for ... the Federal Reserve.)
For Goldman, dropping big news on a Friday serves the opposite purpose: Giving investors three full days to sit with the information (even if two of them are Saturday and Sunday).
Then again, the point is knowing the audience: Goldman doesn’t unplug. Why would its investors?