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Op-Ed: Morgan Stanley's stellar quarter just rubs Goldman's nose in its own stinky earnings


James Gorman, chief executive officer of Morgan Stanley.

Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

James Gorman, chief executive officer of Morgan Stanley.

James Gorman is rubbing Goldman Sachs‘ nose in it. Morgan Stanley‘s chief executive didn’t just hit his return target with a $1.8 billion first-quarter earnings showing. His fixed-income, currency and commodities traders virtually doubled their top line from what was a tough period for the industry last year, confirming that their chief rival made a mess of the first three months of the year.

Morgan Stanley’s 96 percent jump in fixed-income trading was easily the best of the batch of Wall Street’s bulge-bracket results. Bank of America, Citi and JPMorgan each boosted their comparable division’s revenue just shy of a fifth, which was enough to take them back to roughly what they were earning in the first quarter of 2015. A 2 percent drop in the top line, though, left Goldman’s traders bringing in almost half what they managed two years ago.

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Business mix explains part of the relative slump: currency and commodities markets – Goldman specialties – were slow, though others only mentioned foreign exchange as problematic. But Lloyd Blankfein’s bank also blamed low volatility, “relatively light” client activity and a decline in rates and credit products. By contrast, Morgan Stanley claimed buoyant conditions fueled its outperformance, as did JPMorgan.

Fixed-income trading was not the only battlefield where Morgan Stanley emerged victorious last quarter. Its equities traders held up better than Goldman’s, registering a 2 percent decline year-over-year compared with its rival’s nearly 7 percent. Gorman’s teams also more than doubled underwriting revenue in equity and debt, compared with increases of 99 percent and 38 percent, respectively, at Blankfein’s Goldman.



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