Goldman Sachs profit falls 24% as legal expenses mar results

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Goldman Sachs said that its fourth-quarter profits dropped by 24% from a year earlier, as the bank saw significantly higher legal and compensation expenses

NEW YORK —
Goldman Sachs said its fourth-quarter profits dropped by 24% from a year earlier, as the bank had to set aside money to cover its looming settlement with U.S. authorities over its role in a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund scandal.

The investment bank said Wednesday that it earned a profit of $1.72 billion in the quarter, or $4.69 a share, down from a profit of $2.32 billion, or $6.11 per share, a year earlier. The results missed analysts’ expectations for earnings of $5.47 a share.

Despite having a strong quarter in trading, Goldman’s results were marred by significantly higher expenses. The bank set aside roughly $500 million more to cover its legal expenses in the quarter. The bank is currently negotiating a settlement over its involvement in 1MDB, a Malaysian government-sponsored investment fund that became a conduit for high-level Malaysian officials to launder money out of the country.

Malaysia’s prime minister was arrested as part of the scandal, and another official is a fugitive and his whereabouts are unknown. Two former Goldman Sachs bankers have been charged for their role in helping 1MDB launder money.

The bank also had a big jump in its compensation expenses, setting aside $3.05 billion in the quarter to pay its well-compensated employees, compared with $1.86 billion a year earlier. Many of Goldman’s employees earn the bulk of their pay in large year-end bonuses. For the full-year, however, compensation and benefits costs at the bank were basically flat – reflecting the difficult year Goldman had in many of its businesses.

The expenses overshadowed what was a pretty decent quarter for Goldman, reflecting financial markets’ overall performance in the last three months of the year. Trading revenues were up 33% from a year earlier, lead by a massive jump in revenue from trading bonds, commodities and currencies.

For the full year, Goldman had a profit of $7.9 billion, down from $9.86 billion in the same period a year ago.

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