Wall Street banks are going to get pushed to make deals

Wall Street banks are hearing growing calls to think about doing deals. It’s not clear anyone will follow through.

When Comerica CEO Ralph Babb admitted, first on a conference call with analysts and then again at his company's annual meeting, that he'd consider making a sale of some or all of his bank, it was a big inflection point for other Wall Street banks that have been fighting off low rates and poor share performance. Finally, someone was at least thinking about cutting a deal.

Babb said on the bank's earnings call that it hired Boston Consulting Group to help it undertake "a more intense review of our expense base and revenue base."

Comerica's investors pushed for a sale, which temporarily buoyed shares. A company representative declined further comment when contacted.

Protest with bullhorn
Samuel Corum | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Elsewhere on Wall Street, other big banks awaiting annual shareholder meetings may get grilled with questions asking why they won't sell — or, when they might start buying. Big banks' stocks have been hammered by factors including their fixed income, currencies and commodities trading business. Wall Street firms are cutting head count and compensation to offset plummeting profitability.

Another bank that could hear shareholders eager to do deals is Morgan Stanley, according to a report from CLSA banking analyst Mike Mayo. Although he acknowledged that it's not "a high-probability event," Mayo said that after years of failing to generate returns exceeding the cost of capital, it's something he thinks will be on investors' minds.

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"It is hard for us to ignore that the implied break-up value is almost twice the current market cap," he wrote, adding, "there is a lot of value in the company, especially considering $25 in tangible book value in the institutional securities business alone."

Mayo said the bank should expect shareholders will bring up the mergers and acquisitions question, as they did with Comerica, at the bank's annual shareholder meeting next week. Morgan Stanley did not respond to a request seeking comment.

"You can't leave any possibilities off the table when the sum of the parts are worth two-thirds more than what the stock is worth," Mayo said in an interview.

A separate report from Mayo suggested Goldman Sachs would be able to accelerate its growing push into traditional banking by acquiring E-Trade, a move that would both boost deposits and bolster revenue options, he noted in the report. There's been no indication of a deal between Goldman and E-Trade.

Like Morgan Stanley, Goldman will also host its shareholder meeting next week.

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Goldman has quietly been scaling the ranks of banks, by consumer deposits, in part aided by its acquisition of GE Capital's assets from General Electric, which it completed last month. And, it's in part due to the GE deal, that makes Goldman less likely to go out and dive immediately into another consumer transaction at a time when it still digesting $16 billion in assets.

"We are in regular conversation with all of our analysts and investors and welcome that dialogue," a representative for the bank said.