Record stock markets have been good to Morgan Stanley. The firm’s wealth management fees climbed to a record in the fourth quarter as the S&P 500 Index reached an all-time high.
The company beat its target cost ratio for the year and posted the highest profitability under Chief Executive Officer James Gorman, who has pinned his strategy on the crisis-era acquisition of Citigroup Inc.’s Smith Barney brokerage. The shares rose as the company boosted its target for return on equity.
Morgan Stanley has been moving more wealthy clients into fee-based accounts that are priced on asset levels rather than activity, boosting results as markets rise. Revenue from wealth management moved closer to parity with the institutional-securities business than at any point since 2013.
Fourth-quarter wealth-management revenue climbed 10% to $4.41 billion, exceeding the $4.22 billion estimate of Jason Goldberg, an analyst at Barclays. Pretax profit in the unit set a record for the fourth straight quarter.
Wealth management has “only increased in relevance as it’s continued to grow,” Chief Financial Officer Jon Pruzan said in an interview. “It’s a larger and larger contribution of our earnings, which is a good thing given the stability” and high returns of the business, he said.
The gains helped offset debt-trading results that were stung by the same malaise afflicting all of Wall Street.
Fourth-quarter fixed-income revenue tumbled 45% to $808 million, missing the $1.03 billion estimate of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.