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The Ratings Game: Morgan Stanley downgraded to neutral at Citigroup, which sees good news ‘largely priced in’


Morgan Stanley was at the receiving end of an analyst downgrade, a day after forecast-beating results that sent the stock soaring.

Citigroup cut Morgan Stanley

to neutral from buy, though it maintained a $100 price target, in a note to clients late Tuesday.

The Wall Street bank on Tuesday reported an adjusted profit that fell to $1.26 per share, but still beat forecasts. Revenue fell to $12.75 billion, surpassing estimates of $12.54 billion for the fourth quarter. The stock closed the day up nearly 6% to $97.08.

A team of Citi analysts led by Keith Horowitz attributed the stock rally to negative sentiment heading into those results, and positive commentary from the bank on net interest income prospects for the first quarter.

But they warned that banks face a “fundamentally challenging” 2023 due to compression in net interest margin (NIM) — how much the bank is earning on loan interest versus the interest it’s paying on deposits — and potential credit worries.

Morgan Stanley, they say, is “among the best positioned” due to its strong wealth managemenet growth engine, low credit risk and positive optionality on investment bank revenues. That could lead to positive earnings per share revisions for Morgan Stanley versus negative one for its rivals.

“However, this is not lost on the market, and we believe it’s hard to make the case for significant multiple expansion from here,” said Horowitz, who said the downgrade is valuation based.

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