Goldman Sachs chief Blankfein seen retiring soon


New York (AFP)

Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein, who led the investment bank through the financial crisis, is eyeing retirement after 12 years atop the company, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Blankfein, 63, one of the most prominent figures on Wall Street, could leave ahead of, or early in 2019 -- Goldman's 150th anniversary -- the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing people close to the situation.

A source familiar with the matter told AFP there was no firm timetable to Blankfein's departure.

"He likes to joke that every day he is a little closer to retirement than the day before," said another person close to the situation, adding that the timing was fluid.

The company is considering the bank's two co-presidents Harvey Schwartz and David Solomon for the top spot. Blankfein briefed fellow board members on both candidates at a February meeting but did not signal a preference, the Journal reported.

Blankfein "is firmly in control of his exit," the newspaper added.

Blankfein led Goldman through the financial crisis, which gave him a first-hand taste of the public's disdain for Wall Street following the housing bust. He underwent chemotherapy for a curable form of blood cancer in 2015.

Though still a powerhouse, Goldman Sachs has taken some hits to its financial performance over the last couple of years ago, with low market volatility hitting crucial trading revenue streams.

That has partly been offset by gains in an online consumer lending aimed at the general public in a departure from its history as an elite investment bank.

Goldman reported a rare loss in the fourth quarter of $2.1 billion due to the hit from one-time charges connected to US tax reform.

Not everyone on Wall Street is sad to see the Goldman chief leave.

"The guy should have been fired a long time ago," said Richard Bove, an equity research analyst at the Vertical Group, who faulted Blankfein over a number of strategic decisions, from not acquiring a commercial bank or a financial technology company to not readying Goldman for a slowdown in trading.

But Wall Street journalist and former investment banker William Cohan praised Blankfein for better positioning Goldman ahead of the financial crisis, in part by taking bets that housing prices would fall. Goldman also received an infusion of $5 billion in financing from Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.

"His biggest achievement was positioning the firm well to survive the financial crisis," Cohan said. "Basically (Blankfein) sent a message to the world that Goldman was strong and financially sound and hadn't made the mistake many of his competitors made."

- Return of Gary Cohn? -

News of Blankfein's impending departure has stoked speculation he could be succeeded by former Goldman president Gary Cohn, who stepped down this week from the Trump administration amid a dispute over trade policy.

But Cohan dismissed that outcome, in part because Cohn had been rebuffed in efforts to succeed Blankfein, an impetus for Cohn's decision to join the Trump administration.

"I don't see that happening," Cohan said of a Cohn return. "That would upset the organization in a way that would be a self-inflicted wound that is not necessary."

Bove agreed, saying "there are enough brilliant people working for this company and they are fashioning a new business role and they don't need Gary Cohn."

Shares of Goldman Sachs were up 1.4 percent at $269.90 in afternoon trading.