Goldman Sachs's commodities risk rose for the first time in a year during the first quarter as it staked 60 percent more money than the previous quarter to trade in rallying raw materials market.
Value-at-risk (VaR) for commodities at the No. 1 U.S. investment bank averaged $37 million in the three months to March 31, versus $23 million in the fourth quarter of 2010, results on Tuesday showed.
VaR is an industry measure for how much of a bank's money is at risk on a day for trading a particular asset class.
The figures reflect Goldman's position before last week, when the influential bank said the commodities rally had outpaced fundamentals and recommended that clients reduce bullish exposure in the short term. Analysts said they expected Goldman to remain active in commodities, buying when prices meet or near desired levels.
Goldman's commodities VaR rose for the first time since the $49 million it averaged during the first quarter of 2010, when it did more proprietary trading, or trading with its own money.
Net revenue from commodity trades executed on behalf of clients was higher compared with the same prior year period, Goldman said, although profit as a whole fell 72 percent as it made less money from trading bonds for clients.
Goldman's commodities VaR was markedly higher than that assumed by key rival and No. 2 U.S. bank JPMorgan Chase Co..
JPMorgan, which declared strong performance from commodities during the quarter, averaged $13 million per day in VaR for the asset class compared with $14 million in the fourth quarter of 2010.
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For the current quarter, Goldman may assume a higher risk for commodities, analysts said, as it adjusts to more swings in oil, metals and grains prices caused -- incidentally -- by its own call for investors to downweight on commodities.
Goldman in calling for lower prices may effectively be getting on the other side of the trade, said Michael Nix, Co-Chief Investment Officer at Greenwood Capital Associates in Greenville, South Carolina.
Of course, what will drive profitability at the end of the day is the ability to make the right call. But that's the power Goldman has, and I think their clients understand that. They can, to a degree, call their own trade. And they can certainly continue to be successful in that market.
After being bullish on most raw materials from last summer through winter, Goldman turned bearish last week, telling investors underweight commodities over a three-to-six month period. Brent crude in London fell almost 5 percent over two days after Goldman's call.
Goldman's commodities VaR rose to as high as $51 million in the third quarter of 2008, before the financial crisis pared risks sharply. Over the last year, the bank had scaled risks even more to cut back on proprietary trading and comply with new U.S. financial laws.
For the just-ended quarter, commodities were the only category of VaR that rose at Goldman, compared to interest rates, equities and currency trading.
(Reporting by Barani Krishnan, Editing by Rene Pastor and David Gregorio)