Goldman to pull float on partners' re-think

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THE PARTNERS of Goldman Sachs are today expected to postpone plans to float the blue-chip investment bank this November because of the recent unprecedented stock market turmoil.

The bank's co-chairmen, Jon Corzine and Henry Paulson, favour proceeding with a listing in the spring. However, some of the 190 partners feel that, given the shaky market conditions and the possibility of the United States heading into depression next year, the group should remain a partnership.

The meeting is set to start at 5.00pm New York time. Overseas partners, including the 37 in London, will participate through a world-wide video conference link.

Doubts over Goldman's flotation have been mounting since its chief financial officer, Jon Thain, warned of a sharp downturn in the fourth quarter last week while unveiling third-quarter results. One Goldman Sachs insider said: "For him to say what he said, things must be really bad."

Although the figures were not as bad as some of its competitors, they showed a 19 per cent fall in earnings to $754m against the same period last year. In addition, the bank said that market conditions would "negatively impact" on fourth quarter results.

Since the financial crisis that was triggered in August by the Russian default, shares in Goldman Sachs' main Wall Street rivals have fallen by as much as 50 per cent, prompting fears of massive job losses.

When the bank decided to seek a stock market flotation earlier in the year, it was assumed it would fetch $30bn. Now, the value could be half that.

Although only 10 per cent of the bank's stock was expected to be sold to outsiders, the fact that some $15bn has been wiped off its value would have posed serious problems for the bank's structure.

The so-called limited partners, who are mainly retired senior staff, managed to agree a formula which guaranteed the value of their stakes. The executive committee now believes these are no longer sustainable on the current valuation.

For the current timetable to be met, Goldman would have had to press ahead quickly. The prospectus setting out the price range and the number of shares to be sold - as well as details about partners' salaries, shareholdings and the bank's financial situation - was due out within the next few weeks. Given the circumstances, many of the partners would prefer those details not to be released.

No final decision has been made on how the postponement should be announced. Some favour an internal announcement to staff, which would not be fully subject to American listing requirements and would give the senior management more flexibility.

However, it was looking increasingly likely yesterday that a public announcement on the outcome of the meeting would be made tomorrow.