Earnings surge at top US brokers: Fourth-quarter profits surprise market as banking fees lead the advance

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The Independent Online
WALL STREET'S three largest brokerage houses reported big fourth-quarter profits yesterday, surprising a market that has become accustomed to unexpectedly strong earnings from the securities industry.

Merrill Lynch, Paine Webber and the Smith Barney Shearson division of the Travelers group each finished 1993 with strong year-on- year numbers. All three firms reported strong gains in investment banking fees in addition to record trading business.

Merrill Lynch, America's largest securities firm, earned dollars 347m ( pounds 233m) or dollars 1.53 a share in the fourth quarter, compared with dollars 221m or 99 cents a share in the same period a year ago. Industry analysts had expected profits of about dollars 1.46 a share.

Commission revenues for the quarter were dollars 805m compared with dollars 587m the year before; trading revenues were dollars 675m compared with dollars 418m; and investment banking fees were dollars 519m compared with dollars 358m.

For the year, Merrill made dollars 1.39bn, or dollars 6.14 a share, on revenues of dollars 16.6bn. In 1992, the firm made dollars 952m, or dollars 4.18 a share, on turnover of dollars 13.4bn.

Smith Barney Shearson - formed last summer out of the merger of Smith Barney and the brokerage and mutual-fund operations of Shearson Lehman Brothers - earned dollars 145.1m during the quarter and dollars 371m for the full year. The firm's parent company, controlled by the securities industry veteran Sandy Weill, changed its name from Primerica Corp after its acquisition last year of the Travelers insurance group.

Travelers, a broad financial services company that also includes a household lending branch, made dollars 297m or dollars 1.19 a share during the quarter, a 67 per cent increase over the dollars 221m Primerica reported at this time last year.

For the year, the company made dollars 950m or dollars 3.74 a share on revenues of dollars 6.8bn. Wall Street was expecting dollars 3.55 a share.

Paine Webber made dollars 246m in 1993, dollars 56m of the total coming during the final quarter. The year before, it made dollars 213m, dollars 46m of it in the final three months of the year.

The firm's fourth-quarter earnings, which equal dollars 4.66 a share, came in well above estimates of dollars 4.35 a share.