Goldman's $500 million small-business offer is no great deal
Nov 18th 2009 12:45PM
Updated Dec 4th 2009 4:53PM
Are you angry at Goldman Sachs Group (GS) for potentially paying itself $23 billion in bonuses a year after you rescued it from oblivion? If so, would you be willing to let go of that anger in exchange for a vague apology and a $500 million fund to help small businesses? That's the latest Goldman trade on the table.
Before getting into the details of Goldman's offer, let me disclose that two years ago on CNBC I supported what Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein did back in 2007 when he helped hedge Goldman's exposure to subprime mortgages. And a few weeks ago, I told Directorship that Blankfein deserves credit for saving Goldman and for fending off a torrent of ill will directed against it. However, he was tone deaf when he joked about Goldman doing God's work -- most people didn't get the joke.
Now, Goldman wants to make people forget by devoting $500 million to a variety of efforts to help small businesses. The New York Times reports that $200 million will go to education at community colleges and $300 million will be for small business loans and grants.
So will you go for this trade? It's darned good if you happen to be one of the people providing management education to small-business owners. But the professors who'll presumably deliver the education generally don't have much experience dealing with small business because only the large companies can afford their consulting fees.
And it's not clear that small-business owners perceive a need to take time away from their businesses to get educated. While they might enjoy the break from the stress of trying to meet their payrolls, they might also consider such education a complete waste of time -- particularly when it comes from professors who have limited small-business experience of their own.
Taxpayers Get Nothing
Furthermore, it's not clear whether Goldman will offer the small-business loans on competitive terms. I'm guessing that if the small businesses that might get these loans are creditworthy, then some banks might already be willing to lend them money (although far fewer than before when the current "recession" began). And they're not creditworthy, it's unclear whether the Goldman loans will be on terms that appeal to the small businesses.
Then there are the hundreds of millions of taxpayers who will get nothing out of this deal even though Goldman is poised to reward itself handsomely (read: "bonuses") for its trading prowess this year.
If Goldman really wants to erase public anger, maybe it should cancel bonuses for the next five years and put them in a fund to help people who lost their homes due to foreclosure. But I don't see that happening.
It's pretty lame that CEO Blankfein has to spend so much time trying to mollify the media since public perceptions don't affect Goldman's trading profits. And it seems that he must not have much to do every day if he's able to spend so much time meeting reporters.
Maybe Blankfein would be better off taking a lower profile so the media can focus its attention elsewhere. I'm not buying his latest deal.