October 18, 2012 / 6:02 PM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 3-Morgan Stanley CEO hints at sale of commodity arm

* First public comments from investment bank on possible sale
    * Qatar has emerged has chief bidder for majority stake
    * Commodity trading VaR falls in third quarter

    Oct 18 (Reuters) - Morgan Stanley has an obligation to explore
"different structures" for its commodities trading business because new
regulations are limiting the unit's activities, Chief Executive James Gorman
said on Thursday.
    The CEO's comments were the first time Morgan Stanley has publicly hinted at
a possible sale of its multibillion-dollar oil and metals trading arm, which has
been reported in the media for months.
    Morgan Stanley has been in discussions with OPEC member Qatar for more than
a year over the sale of at least a majority stake in its energy-focused trading
business, according to bankers.
    Speaking on a conference call with analysts after the firm reported
better-than-expected quarterly results on Thursday, Gorman said changes under
the U.S.' Dodd-Frank financial reform law restrict the kind of trading the firm
can do in commodities.
    "There are potential limits to some of the activities that we can pursue in
that business," Gorman said. "So it is incumbent upon us to explore all forms of
different structures, appropriate structures, that can take us forward where we
can get the benefits of the business but also meet the regulatory constraints
that we operate under."
    On Monday, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani - who also
heads the country's sovereign wealth fund - said the Gulf state was studying a
proposal to invest in Morgan Stanley's commodities trading arm, but needed a few
more weeks to "review the details." He did not elaborate on the terms of any
possible investment. 
    Morgan Stanley's commodities trading revenues have dropped sharply since
2008, partly because of the "Volcker rule," that bans banks from proprietary
trading and partly because of capital constraints.
    Along with archrival Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley was one of the
original "Wall Street refiners" that broke into the energy derivatives market
three decades ago. Oil trading is still estimated to make up about half its
commodities business.
    But while Goldman and many rivals have shifted their focus to client "flow"
business - market-making with funds, selling indexes to investors and hedging
corporate risks - Morgan Stanley has resolutely remained a merchant-trader,
focusing on the business of storing and transporting raw materials.
    Morgan Stanley's commodities unit has earned the bank an estimated $17
billion in revenue over the past decade, trading both financial contracts and
physical commodities such as gasoline and diesel fuel.
    Based on Reuters calculations, Morgan Stanley's commodity revenues peaked at
around $3 billion in 2008 but declined to $1.3 billion last year, their lowest
level since 2005. 
    Selling the capital-intensive commodities business would raise funds for the
bank, which is preparing its balance sheet for higher capital and liquidity
requirements under new rules, while allowing the divested unit to resume
proprietary trading and maintain ownership of physical commodity assets.
    Earlier this month, banking sources said the talks with Qatar had run into
difficulty and the deal might need to be reworked if it were to go ahead. But
the comments from both sides this week suggest a sale remains a possibility.
    Qatar Holding, the investment arm of Qatar Investment Authority, the Gulf
state's sovereign wealth fund, has led most foreign acquisitions. But it has
usually focused on minority holdings, including stakes in Barclays,
Credit Suisse, Volkswagen and Porsche. It also
has full ownership of retailer Harrods.
    Morgan Stanley's adjusted earnings rose sharply in the third quarter
compared with a year earlier as it boosted revenue from trading bonds, long a
sore spot for the bank. 
    The company's shares slid 3.8 percent to close at $17.79 on Thursday, with
analysts citing worries about the sustainability of its results and a weak
return-on-equity due to high costs. 
    Morgan Stanley said its commodities trading risk fell in the quarter from
the previous three months and a year earlier, and it unveiled a new format for
calculating portfolio risk.
    Under the revised formula, its Value-at-Risk (VaR) in commodities averaged
$22 million per day in the third quarter, down from $27 million in the second
quarter and the $30 million a year earlier.
    VaR is an important consideration for investment banks when making trading
and hedging decisions for an asset class.
    If the bank had used its previous formula for calculating risk, the
commodities VaR for the third quarter would have been $27 million compared with
$34 million in the second quarter and $32 million a year ago. 
    Goldman Sachs said its commodities VaR for the third quarter stood at $22
million, compared with $20 million in the second quarter and $25 million a year
    Goldman said significantly lower revenues from commodities weighed on its
trading businesses in the quarter, singling out weak performance by a unit that
was once the pride of the Wall Street titan.
    Commodities VaR at leading Wall Street banks over the past two years (in $
                       Average commodities VaR by quarter      
                 2012 2012 2012 2011 2011  2011  2011  2010 2010
                  Q3   Q2   Q1   Q4   Q3    Q2    Q1    Q4   Q3       
* Morgan Stanley  22   27   --   --   30    --    --    --   --          
* Goldman Sachs   22   20   26   26   25    39    37    23   29 
* JPMorgan        13   13   21   20   15    16    13    14   13            
* Bank of America N/A  11.9 13.1 12.1 15.7  23.7  23.9 17.7 19.4
** Citigroup      N/A  17   14   18   22    25    23    27   26
*  Value-at-Risk based on a 95 percent confidence level
** Value-at-Risk based on a 99 percent confidence level

    NOTES: Morgan Stanley figures adjusted for new VaR formula. Citigroup 
and Bank of America have issued third-quarter results, but their VaR
readings are reported in a separate regulatory filing.

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