Several factors could lift the financial services sector and broker-dealers in the year ahead.

Though there are always headwinds, broker-dealers and other financial firms are poised for a strong year ahead, according to several equity analysts.

Ongoing regulatory issues and a flattening yield curve may threaten the sunny scenario for 2018, but overall rising interest rates, increasing asset values and robust capital market conditions should continue to support broker-dealers with a focus on both investors and dealmaking, they say.

As was true in 2017, scale, diversification and technology likely will be “the keys to success for firms in the space given the ever-changing and challenging competitive landscape, increasing costs of regulation and exposure to market cycles,” says Ann Dai of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, in a recent report.

M&A Momentum

KBW’s Dai says the equity research team will continue to “look for value and catalyst-driven stories” next year “as [valuation] multiples on many of our names began to feel stretched into the latter part of 2017.”

The firm has zoomed in on LPL Financial and Piper Jaffray, for instance, mainly due to their dealmaking.

LPL bought the assets of National Planning Holdings, including four broker-dealers with some 3,200 advisors, in August. It also stands to benefit from interest rate sensitivity and tax reforms, Dai points out.

“Accretion from acquisitions announced in 2017 should be additive …, and retention and productivity of NPH assets will be a main point of focus for LPL in the coming quarters,” she explained.

For its part, Piper Jaffray is moving toward a business model that depends more on mergers and acquisitions. The firm’s shares still trade “at a meaningful discount to the M&A-focused peer group,” the CFA notes.

Piper Jaffray is set to have a new CEO on Jan. 1: Andrew Duff is retiring and will be replaced by Chad Abraham, now co-head of the firm’s investment banking and capital markets division. Duff, who has been CEO since 2000, will stay on as chairman. CFO Deb Schoneman will become president.

Other analysts are upbeat on different firms in the financial services field, such as Charles Schwab.

“We see potential for Schwab shares to perform well around the higher interest rate outlook and growing bank assets,” said JPMorgan’s Kenneth Worthington in a recent note.

“We expect Schwab bank asset growth to increase substantially with faster and larger transfers from money market fund assets to bank assets,” he explained.

Bigger Firms

KBW analysts Brian Kleinhanzl and Michael Brown highlight a positive narrative for universal banks — which include brokerage operations — for the coming year.

“Better markets, solid economic growth, modest regulatory reform over the longer term, capital return, benign credit, and attractive valuations combine to set up a very solid outlook for large-cap bank stocks,” they explained in a note earlier this year.

“Tax reform would be an additional positive for bank earnings as much of the benefit should drop to the bottom line near term,” the analysts added.

Looking at Morgan Stanley — which was the first firm to leave the broker recruiting protocol — they state that it should “be one of the larger beneficiaries of regulatory change over time.”

Bank of America is projected to have “the best earnings growth” among the large banks, the KBW analysts say.

Morgan Stanley, the add, is also “attractive” and should “be a major beneficiary of regulatory reform, which we expect will pick up next year.

Plus, the analysts expect regulations to be eased for the largest firms “beginning in earnest in 2018.”

Overall Factors Supporting the Industry

Some retail brokers should benefit from rising short rates, net positive advisor and asset flows, market appreciation [and] a continued shift toward fee-based advisory [business], according to Dai and colleagues.

“In our view, independent and regional firms should continue to take market share from wirehouses due to their more flexible platforms and advisor-centric business models,” they explained.

News that Morgan Stanley and UBS have left the broker recruiting protocol, though, “creates some uncertainty around the pace of advisor retention next year,” the analysts say.

The analysts say that with the 18-month delay of part of the Labor Depatment’s new fiduciary rule and much of the work associated with implementing it already done, “we don’t expect much incremental earnings impact from the regulation in 2018 but [do] expect the dialogue around the right to private action and other aspects of the rule to continue throughout the year.”