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Morgan Stanley profit beats on wealth management gains, lower expenses

Morgan Stanley reported a drop in quarterly profit but beat analysts' expectations on gains in its wealth-management business and lower expenses. 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 (N:GS) 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." 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.