Wall Street banks look beyond trading to drive profits

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street rivals Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Morgan Stanley topped analyst expectations on Tuesday, reporting third-quarter earnings gains from a range of products and services despite an industry-wide decline in bond trading.

Goldman’s private equity investments helped fuel its earnings beat, while Morgan Stanley’s wealth management unit delivered record revenue and profit margins. Both reported higher investment banking revenue than the year-ago period and kept a lid on expenses relative to revenue.

Executives at the biggest banks have argued that diverse business lines can offset temporary weakness in one area and that controlling costs can further pad the bottom line.

“This is the goal: that we’re not as reliant on sales and trading businesses,” Morgan Stanley Chief Financial Officer Jonathan Pruzan said in an interview. “In a subdued trading environment we can maintain our (market) share, yet when the market flexes up, we have capacity to participate in this growth.”

Shares of Morgan Stanley, which reported a better-than-expected 11 percent profit rise and topped several of Chief Executive Officer James Gorman’s financial targets, were 0.9 percent higher at $49.40.

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At a conference last month, bank executives cautioned that third-quarter trading results would be weaker because of low bond market volatility and a strong year-ago quarter. That prepared investors and led analysts to revise earnings forecasts lower.

Goldman’s bond trading results were under particular scrutiny from investors, since the fifth-largest U.S. bank is more reliant on trading than competitors and does not have a significant retail operation to offset recent declines.

JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bank of America Corp and Citigroup Inc, which beat expectations when reporting results last week, have major consumer operations, while Morgan Stanley has a huge retail brokerage arm that has been expanding into lending.

FILE PHOTO: A trader works at the Goldman Sachs stall on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, New York, U.S. on April 16, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Goldman’s 26 percent fall in third-quarter bond trading was within the 16 percent to 27 percent declines that Wall Street rivals had reported, but far less than the 40 percent drop some analysts had been expecting.

Overall, the bank reported a 3 percent profit decline that beat Wall Street estimates.


The unit that helped drive Goldman’s earnings beat, called investing and lending, has sharp revenue swings because of the type of assets it holds, ranging from private equity funds to debt securities. Their values fluctuate depending on changes in public markets or Goldman’s decision to sell assets, making results hard to predict.

In notes to clients early on Tuesday morning, a handful of analysts predicted the market would consider Goldman’s earnings beat less impressive because it was fueled by such a volatile business.

“Don’t call it a come back,” Evercore ISI analyst Glenn Schorr titled a note to clients about Goldman’s results. “Goldman Sachs still has some work to do, particularly in (bond trading).”

Goldman shares were down 2.1 percent in afternoon trading.

Morgan Stanley’s earnings beat came from fee-driven businesses that Gorman has long been touting as more stable than trading. The Smith Barney brokerage the bank acquired from Citigroup nearly nine years ago is now consistently delivering at least half of Morgan Stanley’s revenue.

In the third quarter, Morgan Stanley’s wealth management business reported record revenue and a pretax profit margin of 26.5 percent, well above Gorman’s target range of 23 percent to 25 percent.

Gorman said on a call with analysts on Tuesday that he expects that margin to continue to improve as some retention packages paid to brokers expire at the end of this year.

Morgan Stanley’s bond trading revenue also topped Gorman’s $1 billion quarterly target while company-wide return on equity of 9.6 percent was within his target of 9 percent to 11 percent by year-end.

“Morgan Stanley continues to produce strong, balanced results across each of its businesses,” said Instinet analyst Steven Chubak, who predicted that Wall Street peers would raise profit estimates following its report.

For graphic on bank earnings, click:

Reporting by Olivia Oran in New York; Additional reporting by Elizabeth Dilts and Sweta Singh; Writing by Lauren Tara LaCapra; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli