NEW YORK (
) -- Lloyd Blankfein and his firm appear to have taken to heart his controversial statement that
is doing God's work.
In what appears to be a sign of atonement for past sins, Goldman has enlisted the help of Warren Buffett to help prove to the American people that it deserved the billions in bailout money that kept it afloat during their darkest days. It hopes to achieve this goal through a philanthropic effort aimed at assisting small businesses.
While this was a surprise move from Goldman, Warren Buffett watchers know that the financier is no stranger to philanthropy. His own charitable organization, the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, which assists college bound students across Nebraska, has raised billions in assets.
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The investor's most famous charitable act occurred more than three years ago when he announced he would donate 83% of his fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Additionally, Buffett has auctioned off cars and lunches in an effort to raise money for different organizations.
On the surface this latest plan appears virtuous. However, not ones to miss out on a profit, it is likely that the new initiative will bag both Goldman Sachs and Professor Buffett a nice profit.
This is not the first time that Buffett has come to the aid of Goldman Sachs. Last year, in the midst of the financial meltdown that claimed big names like Bear Stearns and Lehman and left others like
Bank of America
gasping for air, Goldman desperately turned to the Oracle for relief.
The company offered to sell Buffett's
$5 billion in preferred shares with warrants paying 10% interest. Buffett bought in and as since earned over $2 billion in profit.
Today, thanks to both Buffett, and the billions of dollars from the taxpayer's bailout, Goldman Sachs holds the throne as the reigning king of Wall Street. Recently, the firm has returned to announcing strong earnings and setting aside large bonus pools for its employees.
However, while the bank holding firm is riding high, the rest of the U.S. economy can not say the same. With rising debt, high levels of unemployment, and other problems, the taxpayers who saved Goldman continue to suffer from the mess the firm helped to create. Needless to say, many taxpayers have responded with anger, questioning whether or not Goldman was worthy of their help in the first place.
This week, CEO Blankfein showed his empathetic side by issuing an apology on behalf of the financial giant. At a New York corporate conference, the CEO told listeners that Goldman regretted taking part in the cheap credit boom that helped fuel the pre-crisis bubble.
He then turned the focus onto Goldman Sachs' newest venture: a program to help small businesses. Co-chairing the "10,000 Small Businesses" initiative would be none other than Warren Buffett.
The aim of the "10,000 Small Businesses" program is to provide small businesses in the United States with access to capital, education and networking opportunities in hopes of spurring productivity and getting them back on their feet.
In order to fund the initiative, Goldman has pledged to contribute $500 million to the cause. Blankfein, Buffett, and Dr. Michael Porter of Harvard Business School will be on the advisory council which is responsible for the development, execution and evaluation of the program.
While, it appears to be a sign of goodwill, Both Buffett and GS will likely see a boost from the program.
Buffett, who has consistently remained bullish on the U.S. economy, sees small business owners as a necessary component of growth. Domestic growth will lead to big gains for Berkshire Hathaway and its affiliates.
For Goldman, the program couldn't have come at a better time. Although Blankfein insisted that the decision to launch "10,000 Small Businesses" was not motivated by the controversy surrounding Goldman Sachs, one can't help but look at the timing. With anti-Goldman sentiment mounting and CIT in the throes of bankruptcy, Goldman has a golden opportunity to improve its public image while branching off into the world of small business lending.
Whether the program is profit driven or not is still up for debate. However, for Goldman's sake, it would be in their best interest to ignore the bottom line for a while and focus on helping the people who helped them. The $500 million and Buffett's blessing are a good start, but it's going to take results, rather than an apology, a pile of cash, and a press release, to regain the public's respect.
-- Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.
At the time of publication, Dion did have any positions in the equities mentioned.
Don Dion is president and founder of
, a fee-based investment advisory firm to affluent individuals, families and nonprofit organizations, where he is responsible for setting investment policy, creating custom portfolios and overseeing the performance of client accounts. Founded in 1996 and based in Williamstown, Mass., Dion Money Management manages assets for clients in 49 states and 11 countries. Dion is a licensed attorney in Massachusetts and Maine and has more than 25 years' experience working in the financial markets, having founded and run two publicly traded companies before establishing Dion Money Management.
Dion also is publisher of the Fidelity Independent Adviser family of newsletters, which provides to a broad range of investors his commentary on the financial markets, with a specific emphasis on mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. With more than 100,000 subscribers in the U.S. and 29 other countries, Fidelity Independent Adviser publishes six monthly newsletters and three weekly newsletters. Its flagship publication, Fidelity Independent Adviser, has been published monthly for 11 years and reaches 40,000 subscribers.