If you work at Goldman Sachs, you have reason to fear the first quarter. More than any other time, the first three months of the year are when Goldman lays people off. It spent the first three months of 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 cutting headcount. This year, however, things have changed.
For the first time in four years, Goldman actually ended the first quarter employing more people than it started with. Between January and March, there was a net addition of 400 people at Goldman globally. One year earlier, there was a net reduction of 300. Two years earlier, there was a net reduction of 600.
Goldman’s break with its headcount norm corresponded to an abnormally good quarter for its business as a whole. Investment banking revenues were at their highest level since 2007 and profits were at their highest level for four years.
Pay increased too. In the first three months of 2015, the average Goldman employee earned $130k (£87k), up from $123k one year earlier.
It’s not all warm and golden down at Goldman, however. Employees are receiving a lower proportion of revenues in pay. – The compensation ratio fell to 42% in the first quarter, down from 50% in the days of yore. On a long term trajectory, pay at Goldman is still shrinking – back in 2010 it averaged $166k between January and March. Although Lloyd Blankfein looks vindicated in his decision to stay in the fixed income currencies and commodities (FICC) business by the 10% increase in Q1 revenues in that division, it’s worth remembering that J.P. Morgan’s revenues increased by 20% when the sale of its commodity division is taken out of the equation, so maybe GS isn’t doing so well after all.
Finally, only 3% of people who applied for jobs at Goldman Sachs were accepted last year. Even if Goldman is going to be easier to get into in 2015, it still won’t be easy.