Morgan Stanley Joins Wall Street Gold Rush on Record Profit
Monitors display signage outside of Morgan Stanley global headquarters in New York. (Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

Morgan Stanley Joins Wall Street Gold Rush on Record Profit

Morgan Stanley wrapped up a week of wins for Wall Street trading desks, capitalizing on the Federal Reserve’s extraordinary rescue measures with record profit.

Fixed-income trading revenue almost tripled, driving a 73% jump in total trading that surged past expectations, according to a statement Thursday. That spurred firmwide revenue and earnings to all-time highs amid wild market swings caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief Executive Officer James Gorman said the bank was well-prepared to handle the crisis.

The strategy was to be ready so that “when markets are very active and volatile, we would still perform very well across our whole investment-banking franchise,” Gorman said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “This was that crisis, and that’s what we delivered.”

The gains brought the overall trading haul for the five biggest U.S. investment banks to $33 billion, a windfall that helped all of them survive the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic with profits intact.

Morgan Stanley Joins Wall Street Gold Rush on Record Profit

As the Covid-19 outbreak intensified earlier this year, the Fed cleared the way for companies to access desperately needed cash with programs that effectively served as credit backstops, allowing markets to thaw. That, in turn, spurred demand for Wall Street’s trading and underwriting services.

“It’s clear that a lot of people did well in light of client activity,” Chief Financial Officer Jonathan Pruzan said in an interview. While much of that has continued in the first few weeks of the third quarter, “we would expect a reversion to a more normalized level,” he said.

Morgan Stanley’s trading gains come at a critical juncture for the bank, which is leaning on the business to shore up earnings as it makes a bigger pivot toward managing money for others. The bank’s pact to purchase E*Trade Financial Corp. in February is set to be the biggest acquisition by a top U.S. bank since the financial crisis, and a sign of Gorman doubling down on the success of his firm’s Smith Barney purchase a decade ago.

Fixed-income trading revenue at Morgan Stanley came in at $3.03 billion, compared with the $1.81 billion analysts were predicting, based on estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Equities trading revenue rose to $2.62 billion, higher than the $2.27 billion average estimate.

Share Performance

Morgan Stanley’s stock is up 2.4% since the start of the year, the best performance among the top five banks and a show of resilience that kept the firm’s market capitalization above that of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. -- a perennial rival -- for much of the year. Shares of the company climbed 1.8% to $52.28 at 10:09 a.m. in New York.

Investment bankers at the firm posted revenue of $2.05 billion on the strength of a 64% jump in underwriting revenue, as the firm took its share of the surge in new stock and debt issuance by corporate America.

Wealth-management revenue, which typically accounts for about half of Morgan Stanley’s total, rose 6% to $4.68 billion.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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