Morgan Stanley CEO: too early to consider restarting share buybacks

FILE PHOTO: James P. Gorman, chairman & CEO of Morgan Stanley, testifies before a House Financial Services Committee hearing on "Holding Megabanks Accountable: A Review of Global Systemically Important Banks 10 Years After the Financial Crisis" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Morgan Stanley's MS.N Chief Executive Officer James Gorman told shareholders on Thursday that it is too early for him or anyone on the board of directors to consider reinstating the bank's share buyback program.

Morgan Stanley, along with JPMorgan Chase & Co JPM.N, Bank of America BAC.N and five others, voluntarily suspended their share repurchases in mid-March to preserve liquidity during the novel coronavirus pandemic to lend to individuals and businesses in need.

Gorman, speaking at the bank’s annual meeting, said he does not anticipate resuming share buybacks until the bank is certain the economy is on more steady footing. The current suspension is in place through at least June 30.

Gorman, who has led the U.S.-based bank since the middle of the financial crisis more than a decade ago, has worked to build out the bank’s wealth management business to create a stable revenue and funding source for the bank.

In February, the bank announced plans to buy discount brokerage E*Trade Financial Corp ETFC.O for $13 billion.

Earlier this week, the bank said it will expand its full-service wealth management business to Canada.

Despite the costs of these expansions, Gorman has said that the bank’s operating committee unanimously ruled out staff cuts in 2020.

Since March, more than 90% of the bank’s worldwide staff has been working from home, and Gorman said Thursday he expects only about 50% of workers to return to working in offices by the end of this year.

Shareholders at the meeting, which was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, voted to reelect Gorman and the rest of the bank’s board of directors with the support of nearly 97% of votes, according to initial tallies. Roughly 94% of investors voted to approve the bank’s executive compensation plan.

Reporting by Elizabeth Dilts Marshall and Paul Simao