If Goldman Sachs is the bank everyone loves to hate, Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) might be the bank everyone loves to ignore.
It was one of the last "pure-play" investment banks left standing at the end of the financial crisis, along with Goldman, but it just doesn't get the investor attention Goldman does. That might be because, unlike Goldman, Morgan has struggled to find its place in the brave, new -- and much reduced -- world of post-crash Wall Street.
Thinking about investing in Morgan? Here are seven things you need to know.
1. Morgan increased its revenue in Q1
For the first quarter of 2013, Morgan reported net revenue of $8.1 billion, for a year-over-year increase of 17.8%. This at a time when revenues at many of the big banks were flat or in decline.
At JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), first-quarter revenue was down 4.87%. At Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC), revenue was down 1.40% for the first quarter. Profit is all well and good -- JPMorgan, Wells, and Morgan Stanley all had plenty of it in Q1 -- but if it isn't born out of ongoing revenue growth, then it's not sustainable.
2. Outstanding year-to-date share-price performance
Year to date, Morgan shareholders have seen an 18.65% gain on their investment. Investor darling Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) has only returned 7.07% in the same time period.
3. Morgan is bigger than you think
We all know that size isn't everything, but managed properly, it sure can help generate revenue and profit. Morgan is the country's sixth biggest bank-holding company, just behind Goldman and ahead of Bank of New York Mellon and U.S. Bancorp.
For how little press and Foolish investor attention Morgan generates, I'm always struck when I see this statistic.
4. Attractive valuation
Morgan's price-to-book ratio, or P/B, is 0.76. That's on the low side, but not low enough to make me think there's anything fundamentally wrong with the bank. Rather, it makes me think the bank is a value buy, that's it's undervalued by investors.
B of A has a P/B of 0.63. That's low enough to make me wary. Citigroup (NYSE:C) has the exact same P/B as Morgan: again, a sign to me the bank is undervalued as an investment, not a ticking time bomb.
5. Morgan pays a small dividend
Here's a metric maybe worth celebrating, or maybe not. Morgan pays a dividend of only 0.90%. This versus JPMorgan's and Wells Fargo's 3.2%. Goldman Sachs pays 1.4%.
Of course, there's something to be said for being conservative with capital returns. Citi famously withheld a dividend increase just recently, on the heels of a great first quarter and a great 2013 stress test. To me, this was a sign of Citi CEO Michael Corbat's seriousness about bringing Citi back to full health. Maybe Morgan CEO James Gorman has the same good idea.
6. Decreased trading revenue
For the first quarter of 2013, Morgan reported a 25% decrease in trading revenue. While technically a bank-holding company now, Morgan is still a investment bank at heart, so this does need to be addressed.
7. An increased return-on-equity
For the first quarter, Morgan reported a return on equity, or ROE, of 7.5%. This is an unenviable number, but is up from the previous quarter's 5.8%. ROE tells you how much profit a company generates with shareholder money.
Morgan has a long way to go on this. JPMorgan has an ROE of 11.55% trailing 12 months. Wells has an ROE of 13.07 TTM. ROE is undoubtedly something on James Gorman's mind, as this is a key metric for analysts and investors, and the bank is showing progress.
Foolish bottom line
Like many of its peers, Morgan Stanley is trying to repair damage suffered in the financial crisis, and the work is slow. But Morgan is no small player and is in no danger of going anywhere anytime soon. It may not have the dash and panache of Goldman Sachs, but it will almost inevitably turn itself around and become a serious contender once again.
And once it does that, it will almost undoubtedly become an investment worth considering seriously again. As such, it's a bank you should keep your eye on.