Blankfein says low volatility last year caught Goldman ‘wrong-footed,’ but this environment is great for bank

Goldman Sachs found itself “wrong-footed” last year as it positioned itself for a return of volatility and inflation that didn’t happen, at least not immediately, CEO Lloyd Blankfein said on Tuesday.

“It was a bit of a double whammy for us,” Blankfein said at a conference sponsored by Credit Suisse. “The story of last year was wrong-footedness on what was perceived as a reflation that got delayed.”

Goldman had positioned itself to work with companies and other clients that would be most affected by a more active trading and business environment, but this group got less active when the expected pickup got delayed, Blankfein said. And the bank was “underweighted” to other types of clients. “That’s something that we’re going to fix.”

Blankfein said the bank, which historically has worked with hedge funds and other active traders and with the biggest U.S. companies, was expanding its focus to work with more large asset managers, banks and a broader mix of corporations.

Goldman’s once-dominant fixed income and commodities trading desks had a miserable 2017 amid the quiet markets and record low volatility, with a 30 percent drop in revenue for the year. The bank has a three-year plan to boost overall revenue $5 billion whether or not markets rebound, including building its lending businesses and retooling trading operations.

This year, with volatility now back in the markets and renewed expectations for rising rates and economic expansion, that could change. Goldman already has put more capital to work in its trading operation, Blankfein said, though it could cut that again if conditions deteriorate.

“Market conditions, broader economic trends, and client conviction are clearly more favorable,” Blankfein said. “And we believe they’ll benefit us.”

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