Blankfein Sees Guilty Plea by Global Bank Cause for Concern

May 16, 2014 2:15 pm ET

(Updates with Blankfein’s comments on Ukraine in sixth paragraph.)

May 16 (Bloomberg) -- Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein said he understands the concern over the potential impact to the financial markets of any global bank pleading guilty to a crime.

“There’s concern being shown, and I don’t magnify it, but I don’t minimize it either,” Blankfein said today in an interview after the New York-based firm’s annual shareholder meeting in Irving, Texas. “You hope it’s not existential, and you hope there’s not a knock-on effect to that.”

Credit Suisse Group AG is close to reaching an agreement to plead guilty and pay about $2.5 billion to the U.S. Justice Department and regulators to resolve investigations into whether it helped Americans evade taxes, three people familiar with the matter have said. A guilty plea would be the first by a major global bank in the U.S. in more than two decades.

The effect of a guilty plea would depend on consequences of the agreement, said Blankfein, 59. While dealing with a firm that pleaded guilty may raise issues involving credit and reputational risk, Goldman Sachs executives are very mindful of the stability of the financial system, he said.

“For us, it’s not just a question of what’s in our economic interest; we have a role in the system, and for us to not deal with someone would be a further risk to the system,” Blankfein said. “It becomes a very weighty decision for us to cut someone off, and we wouldn’t do it lightly.”

Ukraine, Russia

Blankfein also said that while clients don’t seem overly worried about the situation in Ukraine, they do have concern that tensions between the U.S. and Russia could escalate.

“There’s interest, curiosity, concern about what if it gets to the next layer or the next layer or the next layer of sanctions; what are the consequences of that?” Blankfein said. “People transact, and no one can ever understand the full integration and the full knock-on effects of pulling a thread out.”