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Merrill Lynch vs. Morgan Stanley: Q4 Wealth Results

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With the stock markets (generally) on a tear, broker-dealers have been reporting record results.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley don’t share the exact same figures, but there’s much to be gleaned from their latest quarterly earnings results.

(Related: Morgan Stanley Wealth Management Fees Climb to All-Time High)

Which group has more money?

Morgan Stanley advisors have about $2.37 trillion in client assets — up 13% in Q4’17 from a year ago vs. $2.31 trillion at Merrill Lynch, which had a 10% year-over-year jump in assets.

But when assets at US Trust are combined with those of Merrill, the Bank of America Global Wealth & Investment Management group, the unit has some $2.75 trillion (which also represents a 10% jump from the year-ago quarter).

(Related: 13 Best & Worst Broker-Dealers: Q3 Earnings, 2017)

Which group has more advisors?

Morgan Stanley has 15,712 advisors vs. 14,953 at Merrill Lynch. If Merrill’s consumer banking/Merrill Edge advisors — which number 2,402 — are included, its ranks swell to 17,355. It also has 1,714 US Trust registered reps.

Merrill says its advisor force grew by 231 from a year ago, while its Thundering Herd decreased by one from the third quarter. Morgan Stanley, though, says its headcount fell 51 from the prior year and 47 from the earlier quarter.

How about average fees and commissions?

Morgan Stanley’s advisors have 12-month trailing production of $1.12 million as of Dec. 31 vs. $1 million for Merrill’s Thundering Herd. But Merrill also shares the performance of its veteran advisors (which excludes the production of the roughly 3,000 reps in its training program): $1.31 million in Q4’17.

Morgan Stanley says the average level of assets per advisor is $151 million. Merrill doesn’t provide that figure.

Which firm is better in terms of total revenues, net income and profit margins?

Morgan Stanley Wealth Management had sales of $4.4 billion in Q4’17 vs. $3.8 billion for Merrill Lynch and $4.7 billion for BofA Global Wealth (which includes US Trust).

Net income was $742 million for the BofA wealth group in the fourth quarter vs. $404 million for Morgan Stanley. (Merrill Lynch’s specific net income figures are not released by Bank of America.)

This gives both Morgan Stanley and the BofA wealth group a pretax margin of 26%.

But while Morgan Stanley’s Q4’17 revenue grew 10% from the year-ago period, its net income fell 24%. Meanwhile, Merrill Lynch says its quarterly sales improved close to 7%, but didn’t report the net income of this business.

For the full year 2017, Morgan Stanley’s advisors had $16.8 billion of revenue. BofA’s wealth group had revenues of $18.6 million, $15.3 billion of it tied to Merrill Lynch.

How about asset flows and loans?

Morgan Stanley, which reports only its fee-based flows, said these incoming assets were $20.9 billion in Q4’17, with loans totaling $80 billion as of Dec. 31, 2017.

Bank of America’s wealth group had total asset flows of $18.2 billion for the quarter. Its average loan balances were $157 billion.

— Check out Morgan Stanley Joins Goldman Sachs in Clearing Bitcoin Futures on ThinkAdvisor.


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