Goldman CFO: Firm has no "magic formula" for pay

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Goldman Sachs Group Inc GS.N, which held down executive pay last year, has no "magic formula" for setting compensation in 2010, Chief Financial Officer David Viniar said on Wednesday.

Viniar said pay this year would depend on a number of factors, including the firm’s performance, competition and “the world around us.”

“We will try to strike the right balance going forward,” he told the Credit Suisse Financial Services Conference.

Goldman reported record annual profit for 2009 and paid its employees $16.2 billion, below its all-time compensation high of $20 billion in 2007.

The firm was on a pace for record pay last year before changing course and reducing the amount set aside for pay in the fourth quarter.

For much of 2009, the investment bank was the target of intense public criticism over the large sums it was earmarking for pay, so soon after a government bailout. Critics charged that the financial sector’s losses were socialized while its profits were privatized.

Goldman was among hundreds of U.S. banks that received government bailout money in 2008 as the financial crisis threatened to drag down the entire financial sector.

Goldman’s 2009 compensation costs amounted to 36 percent of its net revenue, well below historical averages near 50 percent.

The bank paid Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein $9 million in 2009, far below the $67.9 million he received in 2007.

Rival Morgan Stanley MS.N, which reported a net loss for 2009, paid out 62 percent of its revenue as compensation. Its new CEO, James Gorman, vowed last week to bring the ratio down substantially.

Viniar said Goldman did not target a compensation ratio.

“We try to pay our people fairly,” he said.

Viniar said it was too early to tell how the regulatory winds will impact Goldman Sachs. President Barack Obama last month proposed stricter limits on financial risk-taking.

“It is too early to know how these things are going to unfold,” Viniar said. “We have a long history of responding to regulatory changes as they happen.”

He reiterated that he did not expect Goldman to hand back its banking charter. Some investors have speculated that Goldman would try to shed its banking charter to reduce the regulatory scrutiny it faces.

Reporting by Steve Eder; editing by John Wallace