WSJ ponders on what impact the criminal charge against Goldman will bring to the firm:
As Goldman Sachs Group faces legal challenges, watch the firm’s top ranks.
Goldman shares fell 9% Friday on news that federal prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into whether Goldman, or its employees, committed securities fraud. The probe isn’t surprising, given the allegations laid out several days ago in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s civil lawsuit. But investors now have to contemplate what potential legal outcomes might mean for Goldman.
The best and wholly plausible scenario for Goldman is that the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office doesn’t indict anyone. This could dent the credibility of the SEC case and affirm management’s strategy of responding forcefully to the agency’s allegations. However, it could be a long time before prosecutors’ intentions are known. Investors may have to wait before they can completely discount the nuclear option, the indictment of Goldman as a firm.
Another outcome: Goldman employees, not the firm, get hit with criminal charges. Goldman might feel confident any charged employees will be vindicated, especially since prosecutors lost their case against former employees of Bear Stearns Asset Management. But if legal uncertainties keep pressure on Goldman stock, shareholders, who recently became vocal over compensation at the firm, might become restive.
Investors may then look for a way to accelerate an end to the legal uncertainty and perhaps even push for trading to be de-emphasized. That could raise questions over the future of top-level executives, given that several have trading backgrounds and have tilted Goldman toward that business.
Still, Goldman has been around for over 140 years—and, as savvy traders will tell you, sometimes you have to ride the bumps for things to pay off over time.