Morgan Stanley profit beats on wealth management gains, lower expenses

(Reuters) – Morgan Stanley (MS.N) reported a drop in quarterly profit but beat analysts’ expectations on gains in its wealth-management business and lower expenses.

FILE PHOTO: A sign is displayed on the Morgan Stanley building in New York U.S., July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

The results capped earnings for big U.S. banks and underscored weakness in Wall Street-focused businesses in a quarter marked by lower market activity due to trade tensions and rising bets of a cut in interest rate.

Morgan Stanley is distinct from its competitors in that it gets half of its revenue from wealth management, which acts as a ballast during market fluctuations.

Revenue from the wealth management business rose 1.9% to $4.40 billion from a year earlier, and accounted for 43% of total revenue. The business beat its pre-tax margin target at 28.2%.

Chief Executive Officer James Gorman has been focusing on the unit to help the bank tide over swings in market-related businesses.

Morgan Stanley shares were 1.4% lower in pre-market trading Thursday.

Overall, Morgan Stanley’s sales and trading revenue fell 12%, with both bond and equity trading seeing a dip. By comparison, main rival Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) on Tuesday reported a drop in revenue from bond trading but higher equities trading.

Morgan Stanley Chief Financial Officer Jonathan Pruzan described the quarter as strong overall, and said that the 14% decrease year over year in equity sales and trading net revenues was due to last year’s exceedingly good first six months.

“We are No. 1 in the world in (equities sales and trading) business,” Pruzan said. “The first half of last year was quite strong – tax cuts, global synchronized growth, all that good stuff.”

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Revenue from investment banking, which includes advising on deals and helping corporations raise money, fell 13%, helping push the bank’s total revenue down to $10.2 billion.

The bank said earnings attributable to Morgan Stanley fell to $2.20 billion, or $1.23 per share, in the second quarter ended June 30, from $2.44 billion, or $1.30 per share, a year ago.

Non-interest expenses fell 2% to $7.34 billion, helped by lower compensation costs.

Analysts were looking for a profit of $1.14 per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv, with revenue of $9.99 billion.

Reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain and Elizabeth Dilts; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty, Neal Templin, and Nick Zieminski

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