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What happened?
The latest in a slew of big financial companies to report Q4 and 2015 earnings, Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) has released its results for the quarter and fiscal year. Q4 saw the company post net revenue of $7.7 billion, a marginal decline from the same quarter of 2014. On the bottom line, Morgan Stanley swung to a profit of $908 million ($0.43 per diluted share), against a year-ago loss of $1.6 billion ($0.91).

Those results exceeded analyst expectations. On average, these were for slightly under $7.6 billion in revenue, and per-share profit of $0.33.

For the full year, Morgan Stanley booked revenue of just less than $35.2 billion, a 3% improvement over the 2014 tally. Net profit rose 80%, to $6.1 billion.

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Does it matter?
The violent swing to quarterly profitability was due largely to the fact that Morgan Stanley is not -- at the moment, anyway -- on the hook for a massive legal bill related to its conduct during the crisis. That's what drove the previous Q4 into the red, and what helped bring down fiscal 2014 profitability.

Morgan Stanley isn't the only financial major benefiting from a reduced legal burden. The same dynamic was at work with JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM), which released its Q4 and 2015 figures several days before its peer. JPMorgan Chase also bested analyst expectations, not least because of those cost savings.

Speaking of that, Morgan Stanley is going the expenses-shaving route. It unveiled a two-year plan, known as "Project Streamline." This will see the bank automate certain processes, and shift employees to less-expensive locales like Mumbai and Budapest. The company aims to hit 10% return on equity with these moves; the 2015 figure was not far away, at 8.5%.

Although the recent quarterly and annual figures from big financial companies like Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase are quite encouraging, investors generally aren't too bullish on the banking sector these days. So it's uncertain whether the positive results will help lift the share prices of the affected companies. Nevertheless, it's good news, and stockholders should be optimistic that their banks are well in the black these days.

Eric Volkman has no position in any stocks mentioned. Nor does The Motley Fool. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.