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Morgan, Goldman Rivalry Heats Up

Sandler O'Neill analyst Jeff Harte recently advised clients to "expect a year-end slowdown in equity and fixed income trading revenues," citing a "slowdown in asset appreciation."

"Some firms should have difficult comps from the last couple of quarters," Harte said.

In tandem with that sentiment, high-profile banking analyst Meredith Whitney slashed earnings estimates for Goldman on Jan. 6, a few months after she cut her rating to neutral from buy.

Morgan Stanley appears to have set its sights on wealth management rather than proprietary trading profits alone. Morgan is in the process of combining its major Smith Barney acquisition from Citigroup (C - Get Report) with its existing business. As that integration process continues to iron out kinks, and more people turn to advisors in a widespread yield-seeking mission, Morgan Stanley could be a winner.

At the same time, it has strived to make its name more prominent in the league tables -- a historic point of contention between Goldman and Morgan. Morgan Stanley has advised the government on several large, high-profile bailouts, including American International Group (AIG - Get Report), Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE). Both Goldman and Morgan have advised on four of the 10 biggest M&A deals in 2009, according to data from mergermarket.

Analyst sentiment on Morgan Stanley has gotten more bullish, with doubting Thomases having been quieted last quarter. For instance, Richard Bove of Rochdale Securities initially thought Morgan Stanley's new business model was a bad one. Five months ago, he predicted inconsistent execution, "erratic" earnings and workforce woes as it inched outward on the investment risk spectrum.

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