The headquarters of Morgan Stanley. Picture: REUTERS
The headquarters of Morgan Stanley. Picture: REUTERS

New York — Morgan Stanley’s fixed-income traders succumbed to the same downturn that afflicted the rest of Wall Street in the fourth quarter, posting their worst results in three years.

Bond-trading revenue tumbled 30% to $564m, the New York based company said Thursday in a statement. The drop was the biggest of the five largest US investment banks and well below the $823m average estimate of analysts.

Clients spooked by extended bouts of volatility, especially during December, also left fixed-income operations reeling at Goldman Sachs Group, Citigroup  and JPMorgan Chase, which reported results earlier this week. Morgan Stanley blamed credit and rates products, but indicated the tone improved as 2019 got under way.

“The market backdrop we saw in November and December has clearly been replaced by a more constructive tone” for the fixed-income business, CFO Jonathan Pruzan said in a telephone interview. He said even during the challenging period at the end of last year, the commodities operation had a good quarter.

Shares of Morgan Stanley dropped 4.5%  in early trading in New York on Thursday.

Equities trading also trailed rivals, little changed from a year earlier while the firm’s competitors posted gains. Pruzan said that the firm’s equities result was roughly in-line with peers when excluding margin loan losses that many rivals took in last year’s fourth quarter. Wall Street firms including Bank of America  were forced to book losses in 2017 on loans to Steinhoff International Holdings, a furniture retailer rocked by an accounting scandal.

“The pain of the fourth quarter’s challenging market conditions was felt broadly across the Morgan Stanley franchise,” Susan Katzke, an analyst at Credit Suisse Group, wrote in a note to clients.

Morgan Stanley’s merger-advisory work benefited from a deal-making boom that pushed revenue from that business 41% higher to $734m. That beat the average estimate of $605m. Pruzan said the firm’s deal pipeline is healthy and confidence among corporate CEOs is good.

The firm said in a separate presentation that it was maintaining its previous guidance on return on equity, saying it expects the profit measure to hold between 10% and 13% in the medium term.

CEO  James Gorman said on a call with analysts that Morgan Stanley had more opportunities for growth through hiring and potential acquisitions. He said he was  considering purchases for both wealth and asset management.

Even as bond-trading sinks deeper into decline, big banks are setting records in other areas. They had already topped $100bn in annual profit for the first time before Morgan Stanley reported results. Credit goes to the US tax overhaul that cut levies on lenders, rising interest rates and a retail-banking boom.