Analysts say move signals US government has confidence in banks’ viability.
Neil Hume, senior stockmarket correspondent at the Financial Times newspaper in London told Al Jazeera that Goldman Sachs is “in a league of its own at the moment”.
“They don’t have the legacy of toxic assets that some of the banks have,” he said.
“They seem to have emerged from the crisis relatively unscathed.”
However, Hume warned that the announcement of the plan to pay huge bonuses was “not going to engender a lot of good feeling for the bank”.
“This doesn’t look great at this time to be paying vast bonuses to their employees,” he said.
The latest figures mean that the annual payout for the 28,000 employees of the company, which in June repaid the $10bn it received in government aid, could top $18bn.
Goldman received the government funds in October as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Programme (Tarp), a US government plan which provided banks with capital in exchange for preferred stock and warrants to purchase common shares.
The programme was launched after the Lehman Brothers investment bank collapsed and insurer American International Group needed a government bailout to remain in business.
“The key is that they have paid back the $10bn bailout money that they were forced to take at the height of the financial crisis last year. That means that all bets are off – they can pay what bonuses they like”
John Terrett, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in New York
The government investment included certain restrictions, such as caps on executive compensation, but these ended when Goldman Sachs repaid the $10bn.
John Terrett, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in New York, said that Goldman Sachs would be emboldened in paying the bonuses in the knowledge that it has repaid the bailout money it received through Tarp.
“The key is that they have paid back the $10bn bailout money that they were forced to take at the height of the financial crisis last year. That means that all bets are off now – they can pay what bonuses they like,” he said.
“The grey area is that while we call Goldman Sachs an investment bank, it is these days a bank holding company. That means that they been able to take advantage of very, very cheap government money, and then lend it out expensively.
“The controversy is: because Goldman Sachs took that cheap money should they therefore not pay those bonuses instead of paying back the US taxpayer? Wall Street’s view is no, it should not.”
Other banks hit
Goldman is the first bank to report second-quarter earnings, and analysts predict other banks’ results may not be as strong.
Bank of America and Citigroup have been among the hardest hit by loan losses and have yet to repay government bailout funds.
JPMorgan Chase & Co has repaid the government, but remains saddled with rising consumer loan losses.
All three banks report results later this week.