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Morgan Stanley Takes a Beating At Annual Meeting

May 17, 2016, 8:58 PM UTC
Opening Day Of The World Economic Forum (WEF) 2016
Photo by Bloomberg — Getty Images

Morgan Stanley Chief Executive James Gorman on Tuesday stood by his intention to reach a key performance target after facing sharp questions from an analyst about whether he can achieve the goals he laid out.

At the Wall Street bank’s annual meeting, CLSA analyst Mike Mayo asked Gorman how confident he is that Morgan Stanley can get its return-on-equity up to a range of 9%-to-11% by the end of 2017.

That metric is important to shareholders because it measures how well a bank is using its capital to produce profit. However, tougher capital requirements and weak revenue has left Morgan Stanley (MS) far from Gorman’s goal, reporting just a 6.2% return-on-equity in the first quarter.

Mayo, who seemed skeptical, said his investor clients are upset. One recently hung up the phone on him out of anger about Morgan Stanley‘s performance, he said.

Although the first quarter was “a very challenging environment” to earn money across Wall Street, Gorman said, he does not expect that to be the case the rest of this year or in 2017. As a result, he is still confident the bank will hit its 9%-to-11% return target.

“We think those goals are sensible,” he said.

Erskine Bowles, the lead independent director of Morgan Stanley‘s board, also said he believed the bank would hit its target, but that it may have to make other changes to get there. He did not specify what those changes would be. Morgan Stanley has been cutting staff and other costs to buoy profits as revenue has come under pressure.

One thing that could keep markets volatile in the near term—and possibly hurt trading revenue—is the outcome of a vote in Britain on whether to leave the European Union, Gorman said. If that proposal wins support, it would also damage the broader United Kingdom and London as a city, he added.

After counting votes during the meeting, Morgan Stanley said shareholders supported management’s proposals and opinions in the proxy. Around 90% voted to approve the board’s plan for executive compensation.