During the Fourth Quarter, we initiated a position in Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS), which we believe is in the early innings of a turnaround. The bank’s investment banking advisory and equity sales and trading businesses – which we know well from our perspectives as both investors and long-time satisfied clients – have consistently won top three market shares and are impressively positioned. Although MS has historically failed to capitalize on its strengths, its leadership currently is focused on growing its good businesses while consolidating and successfully fixing its previously troubled Wealth Management business. In 2013, we expect Morgan Stanley to tackle its other weak business, Fixed Income,Currency, and Commodities (FICC) sales and trading. Morgan Stanley’s stock currently trades at a 20% discount to tangible book (down from a 35% discount when we acquired our stake at an average cost of $16.77 per share), and we view MS at these prices as a chance to buy a free call option on a promising restructuring.
In Wealth Management, Morgan Stanley has approached the turnaround with focus and results have been encouraging. The underlying earnings power of the combined Morgan Stanley Smith Barney business can be seen in the pre-tax margin line: pre-tax margins in Wealth Management have risen from 6% in 2009 to 13% in Q3 2012, and look on track to meet or exceed management’s mid-teens target for 2013. Morgan Stanley has a tougher road ahead in dealing with its FICC businesses, which are limping along with a still-bloated cost structure and anemic returns due to regulatory changes stemming from the Global Financial Crisis. Nearly two thirds of the company’s Risk Weighted Assets on a fully loaded Basel III basis support the FICC businesses, which combined to generate roughly 25% of revenues1 in 2012. In Q4 2012, two of Morgan Stanley’s peers, UBS and Citi, took decisive action to restructure businesses irreparably harmed by regulatory changes. While we appreciate that Morgan Stanley finds itself in somewhat different circumstances, we still expect it to follow its peers’ lead and come up with a bold fix for the struggling FICC businesses early in 2013.
If we did not believe Morgan Stanley’s management was up to these important tasks, we would not own such a significant position. As they look to cut costs, we believe it is critical to set the right tone at the Board level. We were surprised to learn that in 2011, Morgan Stanley paid its average Director $357k, or 26% more than Citigroup’s average Director ($283k) and 42% more than JPMorgan’s average Director ($251k), although Morgan Stanley is a substantially smaller and simpler bank. One of MS’s directors is familiar to us from previous corporate governance battles we have fought against moribund Boards not up to the job of turning around great institutions. We hope Morgan Stanley will show that its reinvention begins at the top, and set an example for the company by quickly revising its board practices and considering an upgrade of the composition of its board of directors to reflect best principles of corporate governance.
Finally, our enthusiasm about MS’s turnaround benefits from our generally constructive macro views. We expect CEO confidence to rise and global corporate activity levels to increase markedly in 2013. Morgan Stanley, with its sterling reputation, talent pool, and record in execution in investment banking advisory and capital markets, is uniquely positioned to benefit from this improvement. Assuming Wealth Management pre-tax margins improve to 20% by 2014, Morgan Stanley’s earnings profile will shift toward a 50/50 split between cyclical, capital intensive capital markets businesses and a stable, capital-light Wealth Management business. This should lead to multiple expansion towards 12-13x P/E on projected earnings of approximately $3 per share driven by the Wealth Management margin improvement, FICC restructuring initiatives, and a stronger corporate activity environment. The combination of these factors suggests Morgan Stanley shares should nearly double from the recent $20 level.
From Daniel Loeb's Third Point Fourth Quarter Letter.