Sanford Bernstein analyst Brad Hintz on Thursday cut his 2009 and 2010 profit outlooks for
, expressing concern about weakness in trading and principal investments at the firm he used to work for as CFO.
Hintz, who retains significant financial and social ties to his former firm, reduced his 2009 estimate from $3.57 a share to $3.39 a share and his 2010 estimate from $4.23 a share to $3.84 a share. He maintains an outperform rating on the stock, with a 12-month price target of $50. Still, his sharply worded note is unusual for an analyst who has long been bullish on the stock.
"The quarter included a bevy of one-time items and we consider the quality of the firm's earnings as poor," Hintz wrote.
The optimistic price target assumes that Morgan Stanley will continue to emphasize high-margin "institutional" businesses, even though Morgan Stanley CFO Colm Kelleher deemphasized these businesses in the bank's earnings conference call Wednesday.
"Within Institutional Securities, we are engaged in a deliberate and focused reduction of balance sheet-intensive businesses including a resizing of prime brokerage, the ongoing exit of select proprietary trading strategies, the reduction of principal investments, and the closure of residential mortgage origination," Kelleher said during the call.
Morgan Stanley's conservative approach to risk stands in sharp contrast to rival
, which has said its business is little changed despite its shift to regulation as a bank holding company under the
in September. Morgan Stanley made the same shift, and several other companies, including
have either made the switch or are trying to find a way to do so.
Hintz's report tries to look past Kelleher's statements.
"Let's hope we have misunderstood Morgan Stanley's message," he writes, noting "the idea of Morgan Stanley attempting to become a
Bank of America
lookalike significantly differs from Bernstein's thesis on the stock." That view "is based
onMorgan Stanley's normalized revenue mix continuing to be dominated by its leading institutional business franchises."
Hintz did not return a call asking him to elaborate on the report.
Morgan Stanley's shares have traded up since it reported fourth quarter results Wednesday, and were trading in the $17 range Thursday.