Financial Performance

Morgan Stanley Profit Almost Doubles to $1.6B

The bank's fourth-quarter earnings reflect the more optimistic sentiment of investors since the election of Donald Trump.
Matthew HellerJanuary 18, 2017
Morgan Stanley Profit Almost Doubles to $1.6B

Morgan Stanley reported its largest fourth-quarter profit since the financial crisis, underscoring the rising fortunes of the banking sector amid investor optimism over the election of Donald Trump.

The firm’s net income rose nearly 90% in the fourth quarter to $1.67 billion, or 81 cents a share, while revenue increased 17% to $9.02 billion from $7.74 billion a year earlier. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected revenue of $8.47 billion and earnings of 65 cents a share.

The performance of Morgan Stanley’s fixed-income sales and trading unit was particularly notable as it posted net revenues of $1.5 billion, almost triple the $550 million a year ago. It was the third straight quarter that the unit has hit the $1 billion revenue target of CEO James Gorman.

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As The Financial Times reports, all big banks on Wall Street saw a pick-up in trading volumes at the tail-end of last year, as investors reshuffled portfolios in response to promises of higher growth, lower taxes and lighter regulation from President-elect Trump.

“Morgan Stanley was a big beneficiary of those trends,” the FT added.

Gorman pointed to the prospects that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates further in 2017 and noted the positive effects of a strengthening U.S. economy. “There’s more reason to be optimistic at the beginning of 2017 than 2016,” he said.

The bank’s return on equity, a closely watched measure of profitability, was 8% for the year. That was up from 7.8% in 2015, including accounting adjustments, but still short of the 10% target set by Gorman.

“Many big banks have struggled to beat that yardstick since the financial crisis,” MarketWatch said. “But Mr. Gorman, CEO since 2010, has made clearing it a central goal for the bank — one his job may hinge on.”

Morgan Stanley’s equities-trading division posted a 7.4% revenue in the fourth quarter to $1.95 billion from $1.82 billion a year ago, while debt-trading revenue — a weaker spot for the bank — nearly tripled to $1.47 billion from $550 million a year earlier.