Bear Stearns Cos. reported profits of $158 million Wednesday, 146% higher than a year earlier.
But earnings per share of $1 missed analysts' consensus expectation by 15 cents.
Trading revenues were $362 million, up 84% from a year earlier, when trading and underwriting at all securities firms went flat after the Russian debt crisis. But trading revenues were down 50% from the previous quarter's $713 million. "Compared to other broker-dealers, Bear Stearns is much more reliant on the high-yield market, and there just wasn't as much activity there," said Eileen Fahey, an analyst at the Duff & Phelps credit rating agency.
Bear Stearns' fiscal year begins July 1, so Wednesday's results were from activity in the company's first quarter.
Compared with the previous quarter, "the level of activity in the bond and equities markets was certainly more difficult," said Samuel Molinaro, chief financial officer. This week other Wall Street firms such as Merrill Lynch & Co. and Paine Webber Group Inc. also reported earnings that were less spectacular than in the preceding period. But these firms met earnings expectations, in part because they compensated by drawing on less market-sensitive sources of revenue, such as investment banking and retail brokerage. Merrill beat analysts' consensus by 5 cents, and Paine Webber beat it by 3.
At Bear Stearns, commissions from equities and futures dropped 5.1% from the year earlier and 16% from the previous quarter.
Bear Stearns' reporting date was an additional contributor to the decline in commission revenue, Mr. Molinaro said. The company ended its quarter on the last Friday of September, four days before other Wall Street firms ended theirs. "Fewer days of activity have a fairly substantial impact," he said.
But analysts said they were not worried. "This is only one inning in a very long game, and their performance over time has been good," said Michael Flanagan, a brokerage analyst at Financial Service Analytics. The $154 billion-asset brokerage's stock fell $3.50, to $36.75 a share at Wednesday's close of trading.