Page last updated at 19:12 GMT, Wednesday, 15 July 2009 20:12 UK

US banks are not cured yet

By Greg Wood
North America Business Reporter, BBC News, New York

Wall Street sign
Goldman's results are probably the most high-profile on Wall Street

Earlier this week Goldman Sachs demonstrated that it is, once again, the most efficient money making machine in the world when it reported profits of nearly $3.5bn (£2.1bn) for the second quarter of the year.

Six months ago, many people thought this machine was broken but they have been proved spectacularly wrong. So, does that mean the US banking crisis is over?

Well not really, because Goldman Sachs is not like other banks.

Goldman is pulling in record revenues thanks to the revival in world financial markets. It made most of its money from trading in stocks, bonds, currencies and commodities, correctly calculating which way prices were going to go.

It is a high risk but high reward approach which other banks cannot replicate.

And it is going to trigger some very large payouts for Goldman's staff. Big bankers' bonuses are back, and that is not popular, especially as Goldman Sachs received taxpayers' money.

'Haves and have-nots'

According to Rich Ferlauto, from the American Federation of State Employees: "There should be some ethical obligation on the part of Goldman Sachs because their bonus pool is backed by taxpayers who are suffering through the poorest economy in 70 years."

But Goldman Sachs sees it otherwise.

Goldman Sachs is bereft of obligations to the taxpayer
Robin Farzard
Business Week magazine

It had very little exposure to the market for mortgage-backed securities which decimated its rivals.

And it has already paid back the $10bn bail-out money it received from the government.

"It'll put into sharper relief the lot of the haves and the have-nots," says Robin Farzard, a senior writer at Business Week magazine. "There's Goldman Sachs, there's J.P. Morgan Chase - and then there's everybody else."

"Those wards of the state, like Citigroup and Bank of America with its gunshot wedding to Merrill Lynch, who had to go hat in hand to the government, are not as able to make the outsized bets that Goldman Sachs just did. Goldman Sachs is bereft of obligations to the taxpayer. It's really unique like that."

Toxic assets

If you want evidence of the desperate conditions which still prevail in some other parts of the banking sector, then consider the case of CIT Group.

It is not a household name, but it is one of the nation's biggest lenders to small businesses and it could go bust.

CIT has been in talks with the Federal authorities all week about a bail-out. Its failure would remove a key source of credit for thousands of firms.

"CIT has almost a million customers overall", says Todd McCracken, president of the National Small Business Association. "So if something happened to them that would be a rather large hole to fill."

The two banks announcing results on Friday - Citigroup and Bank of America - still owe money to the US Treasury, around $90bn in total.

Citigroup is expected to report a loss, as it continues to be weighed down by toxic assets, and the government could end up owning a third of the business.

The banking sector here still has more than its fair share of problems. One stunning performance from Goldman Sachs does not alter that.

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