Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS) on Thursday reported a first-quarter loss, but excluding an unusual, one-time charge the company earned a profit, albeit less than its year-earlier profit, that beat analyst expectations. Shares jumped in early trading.
The New York-based financial services giant reported a net loss of $78 million, or 5 cents per share, on revenue of $6.9 billion. The loss, which was heavily weighed down by a $2 billion accounting charge, contrasted to a profit of $984 billion, or 51 cents per share, on revenues of $7.6 billion, in the first quarter of last year.
But excluding the big accounting charge, related to the market pricing of bank-issued bonds, earnings were $1.4 billion, or 71 cents per share. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected adjusted earnings of 34 cents per share on revenues of $7.33 billion.
"This quarter is further evidence that Morgan Stanley has rebounded from the financial crisis of 2008 and is in a significantly stronger position," James P. Gorman, the company's chief executive, said in a statement, which also highlighted company results from sales and trading operations, global joint ventures, and the U.S. loan business.
The firm's outsize positive surprise was driven mainly by a massive boom in profits from non-equity trading. Before calculating the special accounting charge, the Morgan Stanley unit that deals with underwriting securities reported profits of $1.67 billion, a huge jump from pre-tax earnings of $621 million seen a year ago. A substantial part of that profit spike was due to results from the firm's Japanese joint venture, which recorded a profit after having contributed a loss of $655 million last year.
Numbers in the firm's asset management divisions were also strong. A further positive, and seemingly wholly unexpected surprise, came as the firm reduced its value-at-risk, a measure of the amount of money the firm could expect to lose within its portfolio in an unfavorable scenario.
The results, much better on core numbers than analysts had expected, further fed into Morgan Stanley's reputation as a wildcard broker prone to busting analyst estimates. It is the sixth straight quarter in which results have exceeded Wall Street expectations, an unusual feat given big bank analysts are some of the more sophisticated company researchers in the sell-side business.
Perhaps the only disappointing aspect to the Morgan Stanley report was its profit margin at its Global Wealth Management business, which was 11 percent for the quarter. That was stronger than the 10 percent figure from a year ago, but less than the range in the mid-teens the company has been promising.
Analysts hoped the bank would announce an acceleration of its plans to finish the proposed buyout of brokerage Smith Barney from competitor Citigroup, which would ostensibly boost margins on that unit.
However, in a conference call with investors after the results were announced CEO Gorman noted he had "no particular compulsion or anxiety to accelerate" the purchase, even if he was "always prepared to listen" to alternatives.
After opening to highs over 5 percent from the previous day's close, Morgan Stanley stock bucked the rising market and surrendered some early gains on heavy trading. Shares of the company were recently selling for $17.80, up 14 cents.