November 20, 2009 / 6:22 AM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 4-Goldman holders seek bonus pool reduction-WSJ

* Big investors want Goldman to reduce bonus pool-WSJ

* Investors not requesting large cut-paper

* Stockholders have not shared concern-Goldman

* Goldman shares dip 0.7 percent (Adds Freeman comment, additional Goldman comment)

NEW YORK, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Some big Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) shareholders have asked the U.S. bank to cut what could be the biggest bonuses in its history to pass more profit onto investors, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

Although the investors are not pushing for a huge cut, they feel Goldman, which received $10 billion of taxpayer help during the credit crisis, should better reward them for this year’s rebound, the paper said, quoting people familiar with the situation.

Goldman spokesman Lucas van Praag said major shareholders had not contacted the company about lowering its bonus pool.

“Our investors have consistently told us that they expect the firm to set compensation at a level which produces attractive returns to shareholders,” van Praag said in an emailed statement.

“They know that compensation at Goldman Sachs is directly linked to the firm’s performance and that our compensation ratio has consistently been at or among the lowest in the industry.”

Goldman so far this year has set aside nearly $17 billion for bonuses and looks well on track to break the $20 billion mark, which could mean higher payouts per employee than in the previous record year, 2007.

TALENT RETENTION CITED

But Barclays Capital analyst Roger Freeman told Reuters he has not had a “single conversation with any investor that actually thinks comp is misguided” at Goldman. Freeman was cited in the paper as saying he has heard from investors concerned about how much Goldman delivers to shareholders.

Freeman said a change in compensation could cause Goldman to lose talent.

“That could be far more harmful to shareholders than reining in comp for a quarter because it is a front-page issue,” he said.

Goldman shares were down 0.7 percent in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange, compared with a 0.04 percent gain in the NYSE Arca Securities Broker/Dealer Index .XBD. So far this year, Goldman shares are up 103 percent, more than double the gains for the broader sector.

A year after the implosion of U.S. bank giant Lehman Brothers LEHMQ.PK, regulators and politicians have called for closer scrutiny of pay.

Shareholders of Goldman are also concerned about a change in its financial statements that increased the company’s total headcount by adding temporary employees and consultants, the Wall Street Journal said.

Due to the change, it looked like Goldman employees are on pace to earn $717,000 per person in 2009, the Journal said, instead of the $775,000 that they would earn on average if temporary employees and consultants were not counted.

Freeman told Reuters that the change is “not enough of a switch that actually moves the needle.”

The complaints to Goldman come as institutional investors have come under increasing pressure to use their influence to curb excessive compensation and other perks at companies they’ve invested in.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is pushing a proposal to encourage more participation in shareholder proxy votes and give large investors more say in selecting boards of directors. (Writing by Lisa Jucca and Supantha Mukherjee, additional reporting by Eva Kuehnen in Frankfurt and Steve Eder and Aaron Pressman in New York; Editing by David Cowell, Steve Orlofsky and Lisa Von Ahn)

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