Morgan Stanley Earnings Call Insights: Incremental Margins and Market Forecast

Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) recently reported its fourth quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Incremental Margins

Howard Chen – Credit Suisse: With respect to expenses, the cost reduction targets in a flattish revenue environment, is a really strong statement and a helpful benchmark for us. I am curious James, how do you broadly think about the incremental margins or returns in a potentially better revenue environment? For example, if revenues were up 10% with a similar business mix, how much do you think will drop to the bottom line?

James P. Gorman – Chairman and CEO: That’s not one I am going to wing. Let me put pencil to paper. We’ve been operating so much under that basis that there won’t be increased revenues. Obviously the world is going to evolve, so at some point that’s not true. But our approach has been, what can we control? How do we drive up margins in a flat revenue environment and obviously through the expense line is how we are doing that. By definition, if we hold the line on our fixed costs which I think we are being very disciplined about on a go forward basis, one would assume the incremental dollar revenue will throw up a higher incremental margin than the previous dollar revenue. But I’ve got to go and – we’d have to go and look at it business by business.

Howard Chen – Credit Suisse: We saw some really nice expense control within Global Wealth Management, specifically compensations, you’ve noted in the past the limited flexibility you might have due to the grid like comp structure. So, I’m curious what’s driving that comp accrual lower in 2012 and how sustainable should we think about it?

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