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Morgan Stanley President Kelleher says trading activity has improved

By Olivia Oran

By Olivia Oran

(Reuters) - Morgan Stanley <MS.N> President Colm Kelleher said on Tuesday that trading activity for the first quarter felt "slightly better" than at the end of 2016.

Kelleher said at a European financials conference that bond trading was "doing well" while client volumes in stock trading were down across Wall Street.

Bank executives including Citigroup <C.N> Chief Financial Officer John Gerspach and JPMorgan Chase & Co <JPM.N> CFO Marianne Lake have also said in recent weeks that trading revenue this quarter would tick up modestly.

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Investment bank Jefferies, whose results are seen as a bellwether for big banks, said on Tuesday its first-quarter trading revenue rose more than six times from the year-ago period.

Trading is the most volatile business on Wall Street and big revenue swings are common.

During the fourth quarter of 2016, Morgan Stanley's bond trading revenue rose to $1.5 billion from $550 million in the year-ago period. Banks broadly posted huge gains in bond trading at the end of last year, driven largely by President Donald Trump's surprise U.S. election win.

But even with a resurgence in fixed income activity, Kelleher said it was unlikely Morgan Stanley would drastically expand the business.

"If we add, it'll be at the margin," he said.

Any pickup in the business "won't be anything like it was in the glory days of leverage," he added.

"WTF MOMENT"

Morgan Stanley in late 2015 cut its fixed income headcount by 25 percent to adapt to a protracted slump in trading activity.

During the third quarter of 2015, Morgan Stanley reported a 43 percent slide in bond trading, one of its worst performances since the financial crisis. Kelleher said this caused a "WTF moment" which resulted in a reshaping of the business with fewer people and capital.

Separately, Kelleher said the bank felt confident it would achieve a 9 to 11 percent return-on-equity target by the end of 2017 that Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman had previously laid out. The bank edged towards that goal during the fourth quarter with an 8.7 percent ROE.

(Reporting by Olivia Oran in New York; Editing by Richard Chang and Andrew Hay)