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Goldman employees reaped US$2b from 2008 options

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While Goldman Sachs Group Inc employees may get less compensation than in the past, many cashed in last year for a payday they've been awaiting since the depths of the financial crisis.

[NEW YORK] While Goldman Sachs Group Inc employees may get less compensation than in the past, many cashed in last year for a payday they've been awaiting since the depths of the financial crisis.

Employees exercised options worth US$2.03 billion in 2014. More than 96 per cent of the contracts were granted as part of 2008 compensation. Last year marked the first time bankers were able to take advantage of those awards.

Goldman Sachs's stock has more than doubled since it granted 36 million options in Dec 2008 to give top performers incentive to stay. The bank had been forced to slash compensation costs that year, as a global credit crisis endangered the firm and pushed its shares down 61 per cent.

The more-than US$2 billion total disclosed in a regulatory filing this week is the pretax gain from exercising the options. Recipients - who can choose to keep the stock or convert it to cash - may include former employees who left the New York-based company after receiving the options.

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Current partners, who make up fewer than 2 per cent of the firm's 34,000 people, have accounted for an outsize portion of the payoffs. As of August, partners had reaped pretax gains of almost US$800 million from the 2008 options. The bank has yet to disclose their activity in the last four months of the year.

The investment bank's most senior leaders didn't receive the options, as Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C Blankfein and President Gary D Cohn took no bonus for 2008.

The options were granted at an exercise price of US$78.78 and vested over years. Another US$1.4 billion of the 2008 options were still outstanding at the end of 2014, when the stock closed at US$193.83.

Goldman Sachs has cut the portion of revenue it pays employees since the crisis as it seeks to boost returns amid higher capital requirements. Compensation costs were US$12.7 billion last year, down from a peak of US$20.2 billion in 2007. Since the 2008 options vested in previous years, their cost wouldn't have been included in last year's figure.

The firm said in the filing this week that it awarded restricted shares worth about US$2.5 billion as part of 2014 pay, up from US$2.3 billion a year earlier. It didn't award any options.

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