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April 18 (Reuters) - Morgan Stanley posted a better-than-expected first-quarter profit on Wednesday, as its trading business drew strength from increased market volatility in line with other major banks.
Sales and trading revenue at the United States' sixth biggest bank rose 26 percent in the quarter, driven by strong gains in equities trading.
Strength in wealth management also helped overall profit and the bank's shares rose nearly 2 percent in premarket trading.
After a subdued 2017, volatility has returned to global financial markets, roiling stocks, bonds, currencies and commodities on fears of a trade war between the United States and China as well as concerns about inflation.
This has led to big revenue gains at banks with sizable trading operations such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc in the latest quarter.
Morgan Stanley's total trading revenue was $4.40 billion, slightly better than Goldman's $4.39 billion.
Morgan Stanley's bond trading revenue rose 9.3 percent on increased client activity after several sluggish quarters, in contrast to rivals JPMorgan Chase & Co and Citigroup Inc .
Wealth management revenue rose 7.8 percent while pretax profit margin came in at 27 percent, the mid-point of Chief Executive Officer James Gorman's target of 26 percent to 28 percent.
Under Gorman, Morgan Stanley has been relying more on businesses that generate steady fees, like wealth management, after its risk-taking nearly capsized it during the 2007-2009 financial crisis.
Investment banking revenue rose 6.8 percent, helped by higher advisory fees, while total underwriting revenue rose 2 percent.
For comparison, Goldman's investment banking revenue grew 5 percent, while total underwriting revenue rose 27 percent.
Morgan Stanley's total revenue rose 13.7 percent to $11.08 billion.
The bank's net income applicable to common shareholders rose 40 percent to $2.58 billion in the first quarter ended March 31.
On a per-share basis, the company's earnings rose to $1.45 from $1. Analysts were looking for $1.25 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. (Reporting By Aparajita Saxena in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva)