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Goldman Sachs Reaps Big Profits from Fixed Income

(Update includes new analyst comments; updates share prices throughout.)

Goldman Sachs (GS - Get Report) reaped huge profits from its giant, opaque fixed income, currencies and commodities division for the second straight quarter, apparently benefitting above all from reduced competition.

On a conference call discussing the earnings Tuesday morning, Goldman CFO David Viniar gave the impression that the strong revenues in that division, as well as in equities trading, came above all from acting as an agent between two parties, or providing services such as hedging, rather than by making risky investments.

Goldman's overall profit of $3.44 billion, or $4.93 per share, is more than 6% higher than the highest estimate of 16 analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. The consensus analyst estimate was a profit of $3.54 a shares, according to Thomson Reuters.

The ability to take advantage of the turbulent markets impressed several analysts.

"Goldman Sachs is the only company within our entire coverage universe that is actually benefiting from the continued dislocation in credit markets globally," wrote analysts at William Blair & Co.

Credit Suisse analyst Howard Chen increased his price target to $180, citing Goldman's "best-in-class franchise with solid market positioning across myriad businesses and strong balance sheet." He sees an opportunity for continued success both in its ability to act as a middleman and to take risk on its own balance sheet.

That Goldman could make so much money without taking on significant risk is an indication of just how skittish and damaged other large financial institutions are compared with Goldman. Net revenues in its FICC division for the last six months were $13.36 billion, shattering the $5.52 billion in net revenues Goldman posted in the first six months of 2008. Value at Risk, the measure of how much money Goldman could lose in a single trading day, has gone up -- to $245 million for the quarter, compared to $184 million in the second quarter of 2008. But this seems like peanuts alongside the giant revenue figure.
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