Goldman's Kindness Is Questionable

WASHINGTON ( TheStreet) -- Goldman Sachs ( GS) has launched a charm offensive, this time offering wads of cash to others, an abrupt about-face from its reputation of greed and comments just days earlier that led to a public backlash.

The firm plans to lend $250 million, and spend another $250 million on educational programs and grants, meant to help 10,000 small businesses across the country. CEO Lloyd Blankfein also apologized for the firm's role in the credit crisis and said he regretted an earlier remark that Goldman is doing "God's work."

Whether the apologies and pseudo-charity work are effective is yet to be seen, mainly because the genuineness of Goldman's newfound kindness is questionable. The firm already had made its intentions clear -- earn money, pay bonuses, keep doing "God's work" -- and only found the need to apologize when the backlash reached a fever pitch.

While the small-business program appears to have good intentions, it comes after disclosure that Goldman's charitable arm wasn't so charitable after all. The Goldman Sachs Foundation gave away relatively paltry sums of money over the past few years -- essentially the bare minimum of 5% to maintain its charity status -- and the firm wasn't helping replenish its coffers. The foundation started with just more than $500 million in 1999, and had a balance of $404 million at the end of 2008.

By contrast, Goldman is preparing to pay $23 billion in bonuses this year. The foundation's balance, combined with the new small business program, represents just 3.9% of that sum.

Protestors gathered outside of the firm's Washington offices earlier this week were only the latest sign that the public was fed up.

People are still jobless, homes are still losing value, and wealth hasn't returned to the average family as quickly as Goldman's record profits did this year. The disparity, and Goldman's "so what?" attitude prompted comedienne Amy Poehler to ask an open question of the CEO on late-night television Saturday: "Can you not read how mad people are at you?"

Interestingly, the part of Goldman's "10,000 Small Businesses" initiative that lends may actually earn money. Small businesses have been hit hard by the downturn and credit crunch, suffering from a dearth of capital to grow, even if their financial metrics are strong. The Obama administration has launched several initiatives to help small businesses to incentivize banks to lend and prevent additional layoffs and store closures.

Whether Goldman will be as successful in changing perception as it has been in earning profit will be a difficult test. But it's almost certain that if the firm doles out bonuses as planned, there will be more uproar. If nothing else, one hopes its new lending program will help some struggling American businesses earn some profits as well.

-- Written by Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York

More from Stocks

J.C. Penney Slides as Sears' Demise Casts Pall on Shares

J.C. Penney Slides as Sears' Demise Casts Pall on Shares

Bank and Tech Earnings: Key Points You Must Know

Bank and Tech Earnings: Key Points You Must Know

Nvidia 'Is Going to Miss the Quarter,' Jim Cramer Says

Nvidia 'Is Going to Miss the Quarter,' Jim Cramer Says

If Support Holds, the Rally Could Resume

If Support Holds, the Rally Could Resume

Stock Pickers Soon Should Find Values Amid Fear-Stoked Wreckage

Stock Pickers Soon Should Find Values Amid Fear-Stoked Wreckage