Goldman's golden balls, margin calls for Bear's bankers

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Contrary to expectations, neither Goldman nor Lehman did too badly in Q1. Meanwhile, some of Bear's bankers face additional pain after borrowing against their stock.

Q1 results at Goldman and Lehman are better than they might have been - given the circumstances.

The Wall Street Journal says analysts were predicting earnings of $2.58 per share at Goldman. In the event, the bank delivered $3.23 per share.

Lehman delivered $0.81 per share, against expectations of $0.72.

It's a measure of just how bad things have become, however, that expectations were comfortably exceeded despite precipitous declines in profitability - net income was down 53% on Q107 at Goldman, and down 57% at Lehman.

Jobs and bonuses lower for 2008

Goldman actually accumulated 1,350 staff in the last quarter. However, the new bodies all appear to have been at Litton Loan Servicing, a business it acquired in 2007. More ominously, comp and benefit expenses (AKA contributions towards this year's bonuses) were down 35% on last year.

Lehman's release reveals it's eliminated 468 employees in the past three months (including, according to the WSJ, its European credit strategy team), which leaves it with at least another 900 to go given its intention to trim 5% of its workforce. Comp expenses were down 26%.

Spend now, live to regret it at Bear

While bankers at Goldman and Lehman give thanks that things aren't worse, something nasty seems to be happening to some of Bear's people on Wall Street - and it's not the invasion of their offices by an army of Dimonic auditors.

The Financial Times today reports that some of Bear Stearns' US employees are receiving margin calls related to their holdings of the bank's stock.

A senior banker (not at Bear) sheds light on the affair for us: "They will have used the restricted stock element of their bonuses as collateral for loans. Now that it's fallen from $80 to $2 a share they'll need to stump up more cash to maintain the haircut."

Fortunately, Graham Rowlands-Hempel, a partner in the compensation team at Linklaters in London, says such things don't happen this side of the Atlantic. "Most banks insist upon clauses saying you can't use restricted stock as collateral for a loan. You can see why now."