Wealth Management Gives Morgan Stanley Rare Wall Street Growth

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Updated from 7:54 a.m ET to reflect analyst comments, Morgan Stanley CEO comments and closing share prices

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) --  Morgan Stanley 's  focus on wealth management is paying off, as the division drives industry-leading top-line growth for the investment bank.

On Friday, Morgan Stanley reported $7.9 billion in third-quarter revenue and 50 cents in adjusted earnings per share, beating top and bottom line consensus expectations. 

The results indicate that Morgan Stanley is suffering from a sharp third-quarter drop-off in some key trading businesses and flat investment banking fees. However, unlike competitors such as Goldman Sach s , JPMorgan , Citigroup  and Bank of America , Morgan Stanley has been able to show growth as a result of the firm's full consolidation of brokerage and wealth management businesses it acquired from Citigroup.

Morgan Stanley was expected to earn $7.7 billion in third-quarter revenue, a significant jump from year-ago levels before the firm has fully consolidated its stake in Morgan Stanley Smith Barney , according to consensus estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Revenue was forecast to fall about 8% from the second quarter. Earnings per share were forecast to come in at 40 cents.

The bank's wealth management results indicated only a small drop in revenue from the second quarter and rising profitability. Those earnings helped to offset more significant declines from Morgan Stanley's Institutional Securities group, which houses its trading and investment banking operations and often accounts for over 50% of the firm's revenue.

Morgan Stanley's wealth management unit posted $3.48 billion in third quarter revenue and $668 million in net income, an over 1% drop on the top line and 2% growth on the bottom line from second-quarter results. Institutional Securities, the trading unit, posted a 15% drop off in sequential revenue to $3.68 billion and a sharp fall in net income to $371 million. Excluding adjustments from changes to the firm's credit spreads, the slide in revenue and net income was less pronounced.

The wealth management unit posted pre-tax margins of 19%, a rise from the second quarter. The results indicate Morgan Stanley is trending toward targeted pre-tax margins in excess of 20% that CEO James Gorman has set as a benchmark for 2015.

The firm's investment management grew revenue 23% to $828 million and nearly doubled profits to $300 million, a rare sign of growth for the investment bank.

"Our results point to the increased consistency, strength and balance we are deriving from our business model," James Gorman said in a statement. He noted the benefits of the firm's acquisition of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney as driving stable earnings.

"Given the inherent volatility in capital markets companies earnings that is as close to "in line" as one can hope to get," Christ Kotowski, an Oppenheimer analyst said in a Friday client note.