Goldman Sachs' investment advisory practices seem to be paying off despite recent controversies about the firm.
This week, Bloomberg released its list of top firms ranked by the amount in investment banking fees they took in last year. Goldman topped the list, with $3.46 billion – down from the $3.6 billion the firm took in 2010 (though Goldman was ranked third that year). Morgan Stanley ranked second on Bloomberg's fees list, earning $3.26 billion in fees, while JPMorgan Chase came in third with $3.18 billion.
Goldman's top placement comes amidst recent scrutiny of the way in which the firm conducts its investment advisory business. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that Goldman had multiple financial stakes in a deal it was acting as advisor on – the proposed takeover of energy company El Paso Corporation by another energy company, Kinder Morgan. According to the Times, Goldman had a 19.1 percent interest in Kinder Morgan at the same time that it advised El Paso to accept Kinder's takeover bid. Goldman recouped a $20 million fee for advising on the deal.
In a statement to the Times, Goldman said "We stood by our client through [the] process, encouraging them to get independent views from another adviser. We were also transparent with El Paso about our relationship with Kinder Morgan and the related issues.”
But Goldman's relatively lucrative year in fees was offset by trouble elsewhere. In the first quarter last year, Goldman saw investment and lending losses in Asia of $103 million -- the firm's first losses in that region since the height of the financial crisis in 2008. That was followed by a troubled third quarter, in which the bank recorded an overall loss for the July-September period of $393 million.
Goldman also saw a number of the its top executives exit last year: either for retirement or for other financial institutions, such as hedge funds. According to a report in the Times, fifty partners left Goldman Sachs in 2011. And last month, Fortune reported that the firm's CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, may soon follow as early as this summer.