Bank of New York Mellon, under pressure from activist investors to boost its share price, reported fourth-quarter earnings that beat analysts' estimates as higher rates lifted revenue and non-interest expenses fell.
Excluding some items, the bank earned an adjusted 68 cents a share, topping the 64 cent average estimate of 19 analysts in a Bloomberg survey. Net income for the quarter was $637 million, or 57 cents a share, compared with $209 million or 18 cents a share, a year earlier, when litigation expenses reduced profit.
Led by Chief Executive Officer Gerald Hassell, BNY Mellon has worked to keep its expenses from rising as low interest rates make it difficult to boost revenues. Trian Fund Management and Marcato Capital Management targeted the custody bank after it lagged behind rivals in key measures of profitability. Edward Garden, one of Trian's co-founders, was named to the bank's board in December 2014.
"With those activist investors looking over their shoulder, they are showing some solid progress in a difficult environment for banks," Marty Mosby, an analyst with Vining Sparks in Memphis, Tenn., said in an interview before the release. Mosby has a "market outperform" rating on the stock.
The bank was helped by a $48 million, or 6.7%, year-over-year boost in net interest revenue, as interest rates climbed. Assets under custody or administration rose 1.4% to $28.9 trillion. Assets under management dropped 3.6% to $1.6 trillion. Fees and other revenues increased 0.5%.
Custody banks keep records, track performance and lend securities for institutional investors. BNY Mellon also manages investments for individuals and institutions. Before today, the bank's shares declined 14% in 2016, compared to a 15% fall for the 19-member Standard & Poor's index of custody banks and asset managers.
Low rates have depressed earnings at banks by reducing returns on investments and by forcing banks to waive fees on money-market funds. The bank said non-interest expenses, adjusted for certain items, fell 1.5% in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, aided by a stronger dollar.
"It is critical for us to keep driving efficiencies and to reduce corporate overhead," Hassell said during a conference call in October. The revenue environment is "exceedingly challenging," he said.
The Federal Reserve raised interest rates in December for the first time in almost a decade, a widely telegraphed move that Chair Janet Yellen said would be followed by "gradual" tightening as officials watch for evidence of higher inflation.
From 2009 to 2014 BNY Mellon and its rivals got a boost from the rising stock market, which increased the fees they collect for overseeing and managing money. Last year the Standard & Poor's 500 Index fell 0.7%. The S&P 500 lost 9% in 2016 through Jan. 20.