Goldman Sachs earns $3.46 billion in first quarter

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Goldman Sachs Group had an unexpectedly good quarter in the three months before it was hit by a lawsuit from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Goldman announced Tuesday morning that it earned a profit of $3.46 billion in the first quarter of 2010, or $5.59 a share. That is up from $3.39 a share in the first quarter of 2009, and it was stronger than the $4.14 a share that analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had expected.

The results are from the months immediately before the SEC sued the firm for securities fraud last Friday.

Goldman is the latest of the big banks to report a strong quarter, thanks largely to the trading of bonds and other fixed-income instruments. David Viniar, the firm’s chief financial officer, was upbeat about the economy.

“Economic growth throughout the world remained the single most important driver of our performance,” Viniar said in a conference call.

Goldman emerged from the financial crisis stronger than almost any other financial firm, but it has been buffeted by public criticism, and now the SEC lawsuit.

The company took the unusual step of including the general counsel, Greg Palm, on the earnings call with investors. Palm expanded upon the defense that the company has already put forward.

“We would never intentionally mislead anyone, certainly not our clients,” Palm said.

Palm disputed many of the SEC’s allegations, but he took pains to say that he was not disagreeing with the legitimacy of the SEC.

“We do not in any way dispute the importance of the SEC’s role in protecting investors,” Palm said.