WSJ Misses a Big Part of Goldman Story

The Journal puts the Goldman bonus news—its top seven executives aren’t taking one—on page one.

The decision at Goldman doesn’t mean everyone at the firm will go home empty-handed. The firm still has to reward its roughly 30,000 employees. Distinctions are being made between the highest-ranking executives and lower-level traders and investment bankers, according to people familiar with the matter. Many of these employees performed well in 2008 despite the market turmoil, these people say, but could get plucked away by rival firms if compensation practices are significantly altered.

These employees are probably happy to have jobs and there’s probably not too much plucking away going on these days, or is it just me? The press ought to be more skeptical of that self-serving argument. And with profits way down, the stock off 60 percent, and the company’s business model forever busted, saying the firm “has to” give bonuses to employees seems wrong.

The Journal inexplicably doesn’t mention that Wall Street’s compensation culture of big bonuses is a likely cause of its demise because it encouraged outsized risk-taking with little downside since risk was largely taken on by public shareholders in the last couple of decades instead of partners. The Times points that out at least:

There is a widespread belief that the way Wall Street awarded bonuses in recent years helped feed the risky behavior that eventually created big losses on exotic debt securities and helped create the current crisis.

And the FT hints at it, but doesn’t quite get there:

Last week, US banking regulators warned banks that compensation structures should be in the “long-term prudential interests of the institution”.

Bloomberg totally misses it.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.