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Published: Friday, 7/20/2012

Bad news piling up for nation's megabanks

Morgan Stanley stock drops more than 5%

ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK -- It's tough being a big bank these days.

Morgan Stanley, the storied investment house, reported Thursday its revenue was down sharply for April through June and its profit missed Wall Street expectations. Its stock was clobbered -- down more than 5 percent.

The report capped a dismal season for the banking industry. This spring was marked by choppy financial markets, concern about the world economy, awkward adjustments to new regulations, and one scandal after another.

"It was a tough quarter, and a disappointing quarter," Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer James Gorman said.

Of the country's six megabanks, only Wells Fargo, which brags about its plain-vanilla business of taking deposits and making loans, was able to pull in more revenue than it did a year ago.

JPMorgan Chase was the only one of the Big Six that didn't slash jobs, but it had its own black eye -- a surprise trading loss that ballooned to almost $6 billion and embarrassed CEO Jamie Dimon.

Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer James Gorman Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer James Gorman
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

For Morgan Stanley, the embarrassment was the stock market debut of Facebook in May. Leading the public offering was supposed to be a coup for the bank, but instead it brought angry clients, regulatory investigations, and lawsuits.

The headaches are still piling up for banks. In late June, Moody's slashed the debt ratings for every megabank except Wells Fargo. The following week, the British bank Barclays admitted it had tampered with a critical global interest rate.

So far, the rate-fixing fallout has been contained to Barclays. But Bank of America, Citigroup, and JPMorgan also help set the interest rate in question and are all but certain to face inquiries from regulators.

The bleak spring emphasizes the long shadow of the financial crisis, now almost four years behind the banks. They are still working out how to be successful in an environment of tougher regulation and public outrage.

"We don't see much relief coming soon, and it's forcing a lot of banks to say, 'You know, this is more than what we can ride through, this is more than just temporary,' " said Bert Ely, a banking consultant in Alexandria, Va.

He said banks have decided that they must "get more serious about cost-cutting and getting out of businesses that they don't make much money in."

Together, Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo slashed nearly 24,000 jobs over the year, or about 2.6 percent of their total work force.

The sharpest cuts were at Goldman Sachs, which shed 9 percent of its jobs, Morgan Stanley, which cut 6 percent, and Bank of America, which cut 4 percent.

Morgan Stanley also said Thursday it spent 21 percent less on compensation and benefits. It's bringing in smaller classes of trainees and moving people who don't need to be in New York to cheaper cities such as Baltimore.

Shareholders have had to get used to lower, but more sustainable, returns.

Morgan Stanley stock closed down 74 cents, or 5.3 percent, at $13.25 on Thursday. As recently as February, 2011, the stock was above $30.



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