Let's All Calm Down And Think About Why Goldman Spent More Than It Earned On Share Buybacks

David Viniar

Photo: Goldman Sachs

Bloomberg is out with a headline that blares “Goldman Sachs Spent More on 2011 Stock Buybacks Than It Earned.”That does sound odd! $6.04 billion in share buybacks and $4.44 billion in net income.

But hearing what Goldman CFO David Viniar had to say on the on the earnings call makes it more comprehensible.

First, Viniar on the buybacks: “…I am relatively certain that at some point in the future, we’re going to wish we bought back a lot more stock at this price. Yet the flip side is it’s a very tough environment, and in a tough environment, we tend to be very conservative and want to hoard cash and hoard capital.”

Viniar is a very smart guy and he’s being a bit coy here, because Goldman of courseĀ did buy back a lot of stock. But he’s also alluding to that other concern, capital requirements.

Well, Viniar earlier said that he estimates the bank is currently has 8% Tier I common equity and will, with earnings and asset maturities taken into account, be at 11% by 2013. So Goldman seems positioned to meet Basel III without drastic actions.

Bottom line, Goldman bought back shares because management thinks they are massively undervalued and that the firm is in a strong position to meet coming capital requirements.

Based on the size of the buybacks and the importance of meeting capital requirements, it looks like they have a very high level of conviction that both these assertions are true.

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