Goldman Sachs' (GS) golden road to a record-shattering $9.54 billion annual profit was paved with an array of good bets, smart trading and old-fashioned luck.

In a year in which Merrill Lynch (MER), Lehman Brothers (LEH), Morgan Stanley (MS) and Bear Stearns are all expected to top their earnings records of last year, Goldman's net income grew by 70 percent.

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Plenty of the coin manufactured at Goldman's Broad Street headquarters is slated to trickle down to its 26,500 employees — a record $16.5 billion worth, in fact.

"I'm usually inclined to view the bonus number chatter skeptically, but this year I think it's true," said a Goldman partner.

He was referring to reports that up to 25 firm employees are said to be in line for $25 million bonuses; a handful of people may see their bonus checks approach $100 million, according to firm sources.

CEO Lloyd Blankfein, in his seat for barely three months, is said to be on tap for a $50 million pay day, Goldman executives told The Post.

While Goldman's stock and bond division revenue was up over 50 percent, the firm's 25-year push into Asia is beginning to reap enormous dividends.

Leading the way for Goldman were its so-called Asian principal investments, or bets with its own money. The firm's investment in Beijing-based ICBC, China's biggest lender, contributed $949 million of the principal investments' $1.4 billion in revenue.

A bet on Accordia Golf, a Japanese golf company that had been in distress, produced a $500 million gain.

If there is any solace to be had for Goldman's baffled rivals, it is that even the firm's biggest cheerleaders think the three-year earnings explosion may be slowing down finally. Sanford Bernstein & Co.'s Brad Hintz predicted yesterday that next year's profit will decline.

One area of concern for Goldman is certain to be its vaunted hedge fund unit, where its flagship fund, the $10 billion Global Alpha hedge fund, is down roughly 12 percent this year.

Chief Financial Officer David Viniar said the hedge fund division's incentive fees plunged 78 percent to $23 million from $105 million a year earlier. They also fell 76 percent over the past three months, a period when the benchmark S&P 500 Index increased around 8 percent.