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Can Trading Rebound Boost Morgan Stanley’s (MS) Q1 Earnings?


Morgan Stanley’s MS first-quarter 2018 results, slated for Wednesday, Apr 18, are likely to witness a rebound in trading income, one of the major revenue components. This will have a positive impact on its earnings, which is expected to be slightly hit by muted investment banking performance.

After three consecutive quarters of muted activities, the markets witnessed significant volatility and revival of client activities in the last two months of the first quarter. In fact, February was one of the most volatile months since 2008, and March 2018 was even worse.

Last year, trading activities remained weak despite several political and geopolitical developments, hike in interest rates, passage of the tax act and absence of significant progress on the regulatory reforms proposed by the Trump administration. Subdued inflation in the United States and modest rise in long-term interest rates were concerns. These factors resulted in lower fixed income trading while equity trading didn’t fare better either.

Nonetheless, concerns over trade war between the United States and China, higher inflation expectation in the United States, further tightening of monetary policy by the Fed and a sharp sell-off in the tech sector incited significant volatility during the first quarter.

Notably, equity trading revenues are expected to witness substantial growth in the to-be-reported quarter compared with fixed income trading revenues as Morgan Stanley had divested fixed income trading operations over the last few years.

The Zacks Consensus Estimate for equity trading revenues of $2.14 billion reflects a rise of 6% from the year-ago quarter. On the other hand, the Zacks Consensus Estimate for fixed income trading revenues of $1.70 billion indicates a decline of nearly 1% from the prior-year quarter.

Overall, first-quarter trading revenues are expected to be $3.78 billion, up 8.2% year over year.

Here are the other factors that are expected to influence Morgan Stanley’s first-quarter results:

Modest rise in net interest income (NII): Rise in interest rates will likely lead to an increase in interest income. Also, overall loan demand was decent — particularly in the areas of commercial and industrial and real estate. So, NII is anticipated to witness a modest improvement.

A slight fall in underwriting fees: Unlike prior quarters, growth in underwriting fees, consisting of debt and equity underwriting, is expected to be muted. Rising interest rates are likely to have slowed down corporates’ involvement in debt issuances. As debt origination fees account for more than 50% of total underwriting fees for Morgan Stanley, this will likely have an adverse impact on overall underwriting fees. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for debt underwriting fees of $520 million reflects a year-over-year fall of 2.1%.

Further, high volatility in the equity markets across the globe is expected to have somewhat slowed down equity issuances. While fourth-quarter 2017 was an exception, IPOs and follow-on offerings in the to-be-reported quarter are likely to be modest. Thus, equity underwriting fees are anticipated to remain stable or improve marginally. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for equity underwriting fees of $381 million reflects a decrease of 2.3% from the prior-year quarter.

All in all, total underwriting fees are projected to witness a 2.1% year-over-year decline as the consensus estimate for the to-be-reported quarter is $901 million.

Advisory fees to show weakness: M&A activity in terms of deals closed globally witnessed a fall in the first quarter, though the overall deal value recorded a significant rise. Thus, as number of deals declined, advisory fees are expected to be adversely impacted to some extent. So, Morgan Stanley is not likely to remain untouched. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for advisory fees is $476 million, down 4% year over year.

Expense control to support bottom line: Morgan Stanley’s cost savings plan — Project Streamline — is likely to result in lower expenses during the quarter. Nevertheless, as revenues are expected to rise, compensation expenses will likely witness a slight increase.

Here is what our quantitative model predicts:

We cannot conclusively predict an earnings beat for Morgan Stanley this time. This is because the stock does not have the right combination of two main ingredients — a positive Earnings ESP and Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) or higher — for increasing the odds of an earnings beat.

You can uncover the best stocks to buy or sell before they’re reported with our Earnings ESP Filter.

Zacks ESP: The Earnings ESP for Morgan Stanley is 0.00%.

Zacks Rank: Morgan Stanley carries a Zacks Rank #3, which increases the predictive power of ESP. But we also need to have a positive ESP to be confident of a positive earnings surprise.

Morgan Stanley Price and EPS Surprise

Morgan Stanley Price and EPS Surprise | Morgan Stanley Quote

Notably, the Zacks Consensus Estimate for earnings of $1.28 cents reflects a 28% jump on a year-over-year basis. Also, the consensus estimate for sales of $10.5 billion indicates 7.2% growth from the prior-year quarter.

Stocks Worth Considering

Here are a few bank stocks worth considering as they have the right combination of elements to post an earnings beat this quarter.

Comerica Incorporated CMA is slated to release results on Apr 17. It has an Earnings ESP of +0.95% and carries a Zacks Rank #3. You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation BK has an Earnings ESP of +0.21% and carries a Zacks Rank of 3. The company is also slated to release results on Apr 19.

BB&T Corporation BBT is scheduled to release results on Apr 19. It has an Earnings ESP of +1.63% and carries a Zacks Rank of 3.

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