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Five Bold 2010 Predictions for Financial Stocks

What if Goldman Sachs' CEO Lloyd Blankfein Steps Down?

After facing extinction last year until being rescued by the government and Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A) Chairman Warren Buffett (view Buffett's portfolio), Goldman Sachs (GS - Get Report) is back to making more money than anyone can imagine. Why in the world would the boss of such a place hang it up now?

Well, Lloyd Blankfein has made plenty of money, and isn't he tired? And lately, the attacks from the public, the press, regulators and members of Congress are unrelenting. It's gotten so bad that Goldman is going so far as to pay the 2009 bonuses for its entire 30-person management committee in restricted stock instead of the usual cold, hard cash.

At 55 years old, Blankfein is far from retirement age, though he is two years older than his JPMorgan Chase counterpart Jamie Dimon, and talk that Dimon may be bored in his job has been going on for months, forcing Dimon to eventually shuffle top management in order to groom Jes Staley as his potential successor. Also, Blankfein, like Dimon, seems like he could function outside finance -- probably not in politics, since everyone now hates Goldman, but maybe as a stand-up comic.

The obvious candidate to replace Blankfein would be Gary Cohn, the bank's president who, like Blankfein, came up through Goldman's commodities trading unit, J.Aron. But maybe the board would use a Blankfein resignation to try and change the company's image, described in a recent Vanity Fair article as obsessed "with making money first and foremost," instead of thinking about client relationships, as the old Goldman apparently did.

That might argue for putting one of Goldman's top-ranked "relationship" bankers in charge, like David Solomon or John Weinberg, the co-heads of investment banking. Neither, though, seems to have the legendary client skills that have characterized the best Goldman dealmakers over the years. Star M&A banker Gene Sykes fits that description, but who knows if he would be interested. Also, anyone who did not meet with the Federal Reserve and the Treasury during the depths of the crisis last year, or were at least closer to those discussions as Cohn surely was, would probably be seen as lacking the experience of those who did.

Or maybe such speculation is a useless exercise. William Cohan, who wrote "House of Cards," about Bear Stearns' collapse and is now at work on a Goldman book, tells me via email that the idea of a Blankfein resignation is "Bold, brash but [it] ain't gonna happen anytime soon."

Written by Dan Freed in New York.

Next: What if Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit Keeps His Job?>>>
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