Why Goldman's $2 billion profit is no big deal

When Goldman Sachs Group (GS) reports on its second quarter tomorrow, analysts estimate that earnings will total $2 billion. That sounds like a big number, but two years ago, when it paid its workers an average bonus of $661,000, it earned $2.3 billion in the second quarter. It looks like Goldman is going to try to pay near-record bonuses in 2009 despite less than record earnings.

How so? Goldman's 2009 pay, expected to average $643,000 for its 28,000 employees, is only 3 percent lower than its average 2007 bonus of $661,000, which seems a bit high if its 13 percent lower earnings for the second quarter of 2009 -- compared to the same quarter in 2007 -- continue for the rest of the year. (Interestingly, the current $18 billion in 2009 bonuses is 10 percent less than the $20 billion estimated in early June.)