It's earnings season again, and Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) is set to announce its earnings next week. But as the clock counts down to the bank's release, investors are facing a big question: Will James Gorman and team have good news for us? Or should we be concerned about what's to come?
Fear not, Fool!
Though investors should not expect to hear overwhelming financial gains for the bank, this quarter's release will have one main theme that should give them some comfort: direction. Since the financial crisis, Morgan Stanley has struggled to find its true direction, which in many ways has held the bank back. But recently, moves made by the bank highlight its move toward a heavily weighted wealth management segment.
Here are two key reasons investors should look forward to the Morgan Stanley earnings release as confirmation of this new direction.
Morgan Stanley and Citigroup (NYSE:C) reached an agreement in Sept. 2012, which gives MS the right to buy out Citi's portion of their Smith Barney joint venture. Citi's 49% stake was initially reduced by 14%, with Morgan Stanley purchasing the remainder by June 2015.
First of all, Morgan Stanley really got the better part of the deal on this one. Citi had valued its portion of the JV much higher than the agreement's final settlement price. Secondly, adding Smith Barney boosts the firm's wealth management segment, which has become a focus of the future development for Morgan Stanley. With the customer base and support from Smith Barney, the bank can begin to expand its consumer-driven business.
No one likes job cuts, but most of the time, a company knows when it needs to pare down its size. The news that Morgan Stanley will be cutting up to 3% of its workforce shows that CEO Gorman is willing to take action in order to best suit his company's new direction.
Most of the cuts will be made in the company's investment banking and trading segments -- another clear sign of the bank's new direction. Though the company will be reducing this part of its business, there is no indication that it plans to split off the fixed-income trading segment, which rival UBS (NYSE:UBS) did in late 2012 .
Morgan Stanley will continue to participate in the fixed-income trade, though its presence will be dwarfed by the two dominating firms in that space: Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) and JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM). It was clear the fixed income business was creating a drag on Morgan Stanley's earnings in the past few quarters, so the cuts in this segment make the most sense for the bank's continuing rebound.
2012 was a mixed bag for Morgan Stanley. The bank's stock was up 33% at year end, but the biggest relief to investors should be the firm's solidifying vision of itself as a consumer-driven wealth manager. In terms of the upcoming earnings release, keep an eye out for details on the company's future plans for wealth management expansion. As Morgan Stanley continues to build this business, and reduce drag from its investment banking side, you should expect to see a more financially stable company.