Why Investors Should Own Morgan Stanley: Analyst

Morgan Stanley
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Analysts are becoming divided on what to do with shares of Morgan Stanley after the stock's sharp run-up this year.

Last Friday, Macquarie analysts started coverage on the universal banks and brokers, naming Morgan Stanley their best near-term long idea.

"U.S. universal banks are poised to continue increasing global market share, increase capital deployment in 2014 based on strong capital levels, and continue to benefit from the tailwinds of better housing fundamentals," the analysts wrote. "Moreover, improving trends of global investment flows into equities may provide a lift to market-sensitive revenues."

Executing on its strategy of moving away from volatile and capital intensive businesses should help Morgan Stanley close its 11 percent valuation discount gap with peers, the analysts write. Morgan Stanley currently trades on 8.1 times 2015 earnings estimates versus 9.1 times for its peers.

By 2015, Macquarie expects that almost half of Morgan Stanley's revenue will come from wealth management and asset management, which should lead to a higher earnings multiple and support expanded share repurchases.

Greater investment flows into stocks also plays to Morgan Stanley's strength in equities and advisory.

(Read More: Big Upside in Morgan Stanley: Mayo)

Another near-term catalyst is the potential purchase of the remaining 35 percent stake of the wealth management joint venture with Citigroup.

"In our view, the market may be underestimating the earnings benefit from trade order flows and from growth in spread income from acquired deposits," they wrote of the possible buyout.

Macquarie's $30 price target implies a modest 11 percent upside from current levels. The broker has "neutral" ratings on Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan.

But Oppenheimer argues that the stock looks fairly valued at current levels and downgrades Morgan Stanley shares to "perform" from "outperform" after shares have surged 41 percent year to date.

"For most of the last two-plus years we have argued that Morgan Stanley was worth at least tangible book because it had made vast strides in its capital, liquidity and asset quality positions," Oppenheimer writes in a research note.

"The stock is now at tangible book value, and from here we believe that further outperformance would need to be driven by a sustained improvement in returns."

Most of the Street is in the more neutral camp, with the median price target on Morgan Stanley at $25.50, just below current levels.

Oppenheimer does see opportunities for Morgan Stanley to increase returns through the buyout of the wealth management business, but sees little reason to increase 2014 earnings estimates, which already are above Wall Street consensus forecasts.

With estimates equating to a 10 percent return on tangible capital equity, Oppenheimer needs to see "a more visible path toward at least low to mid-teens profitability" before the stock can trade above tangible book value.

By CNBC's Justin Menza. Follow him on Twitter @JustinMenza.

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Macquarie or one of its affiliates has provided Morgan Stanley with noninvestment advisory and investment advisory services during the past 12 months, for which it received compensation. The Oppenheimer analyst who covers Morgan Stanley also has a long position.