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Goldman Sachs’ bumper quarter fuels optimism on targets

FILE PHOTO: The Goldman Sachs company logo is seen in the company's space on the floor of the NYSE in New York

By Anirban Sen and Matt Scuffham

(Reuters) -Goldman Sachs Group Inc sailed past Wall Street profit expectations on Wednesday on a boom in capital markets activity, with management suggesting the bank might set even more ambitious targets moving forward.

Goldman, the fifth-largest U.S. bank, benefited from record deal volumes and a surge in trading, particularly equities, as investors reacted to the rollout of coronavirus vaccines and unique events like the Reddit-fueled GameStop frenzy.

The trends helped Goldman produce record quarterly revenue and earnings, and its highest return-on-equity since 2009. That metric shows how much profit a bank can generate from shareholder money, and is closely watched by investors.

Goldman’s 31% annualized return-on-equity last quarter was more than twice the 13% target Chief Executive David Solomon wants the bank to reach on a full-year basis by 2023.

Goldman also bested Solomon’s medium-term expense goal. The bank spent 53.3 cents for every dollar of revenue it produced in the first quarter, more efficient than his target of 60 cents per dollar.

Solomon is “extremely confident” Goldman can hit those targets on a full-year basis by 2023, which could allow for more ambitious goals over the long term, he said on a conference call with analysts.

“We do see opportunities to drive the franchises forward and drive higher returns over the long term than what our current medium-term targets are,” he said.

Goldman shares rose 3% in afternoon trading.

The bank’s net earnings were $6.7 billion in the quarter ended March 31, nearly six times as high as the year-ago period. Its earnings per share rose to $18.60 from $3.11.

Analysts had expected a profit of $10.22 per share, on average, according to Refinitiv estimates.

Goldman’s revenue more than doubled to $17.7 billion, with gains across all four of its major business units.

Investment banking stole the show, boosted by a swell of SPAC deals, where private firms merge with listed shell companies. That unit produced $3.8 billion in revenue, up 73% from the year-ago quarter.

Global investment banking fees hit a record of $39.4 billion during the first quarter, according to Refinitiv data. Goldman held on to its top ranking in league tables for worldwide M&A advisory fees.

Goldman’s investment banking pipeline ended the quarter at record levels, and is about 10% above its historic highs, Chief Financial Officer Stephen Scherr said.

Trading – Goldman’s largest business – saw revenue rise 47% to $7.6 billion, with the biggest gains in equities trading.

Analysts cheered Goldman’s results, but wondered how sustainable they will be if capital markets activity dies down.

Unlike major rivals including JPMorgan Chase & Co and Bank of America Corp, Goldman’s consumer business is relatively new and small. That gives it less exposure to the economic rebound analysts expect when the pandemic truly starts to fade.

“The sustainability of revenues remains an open question, despite strong results this quarter,” said KBW’s Brian Kleinhanzl.

JPMorgan Chase & Co and Wells Fargo & Co also beat expectations on Wednesday, after releasing reserves for pandemic loan-losses that have not materialized.

(Reporting by Anirban Sen in Bengaluru and Matt Scuffham in New YorkAdditional reporting by Noor Zainab HussainWriting by Lauren Tara LaCapra Editing by Arun Koyyur and Nick Zieminski)

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