Even as some Wall Street analysts are trimming estimates for Charles Schwab Corp.s fourth-quarter earnings, there is a general view that Schwabs long-running efforts to reinvent itself are bearing fruit as it navigates an unfriendly market.
In recent weeks some Wall Street firms, which cited the cooling of retail investor sentiment amid volatile stock markets, have backed away from a consensus earnings estimate that had called for per-share earnings growth at Schwab of 14 cents from the same period last year.
On Wednesday, Schwab gave them more fodder when it released its monthly market activity report for November. The brokerage firm said its average daily trading volume last month was down 15% from October, to 240,000, and net new assets for the month slid 16%, to $9.4 billion.
Schwab cited the skittishness of retail investors amid volatile markets, a problem compounded by uncertainty over the presidential election. The brokerage even said that it has restricted hiring and is reevaluating expenses until the volatility abates.
But most analysts said they remain optimistic and are awarding Schwab executives points for their execution and foresight.
Gregory Smith, an analyst at Chase H&Q in San Francisco, said Wednesday that he is preparing to trim his per-share earnings estimate to 12 cents, just three weeks after trimming it to 13 cents. However, he refused to paint a gloomy picture of the retail giant.
Yes, the overall market has proven too big for even Schwab to overcome, Mr. Smith said. But the very fact that the company brought in $9.4 billion during one of the worst months for the market proves something.
Thomas Ferguson, an equity analyst at Advest Inc. in New York, said that in many ways Schwab has been preparing for just this kind of market for some time. Its management was aware that frenzied Nasdaq trading could not continue at last years levels, he said.
Indeed, Schwabs break from its discount broker roots last summer, with the announcement of a deal to buy the private banking company U.S. Trust Corp., seems more shrewd than ever as investors now look to preserve wealth created before the Nasdaq slide began in April.
We did not enter into this transaction anticipating timing the market, said Linnet Deily, a Schwab vice chairman, who is charged with integrating U.S. Trust into Schwab. However, sometimes during more difficult times people are more inclined to reach out and ask for help.
Mr. Ferguson said he suspected that Schwab, like everyone else, has fewer people becoming millionaires overnight.
Schwabs ability to attract as much as $9.4 billion net new assets last month underscores the companys ability to attract assets and clearly generate retail growth during a down market, he said.
By early last month Schwab had referred 800 customers to U.S. Trust, which generally caters to clients with $2 million or more of investable assets.
And Ms. Deily said that, overall, Schwab has seen more customers look to have their assets actively managed this year.
Last year its Advisor Source unit, which offers active portfolio management, attracted $3.5 billion of customer assets, more than double the previous years total.
This year the unit, which now includes U.S. Trust as well as existing affiliated private investment managers, is on target for an asset total of $5.5 billion to $6 billion.
Schwabs shares ended Wednesdays session off 44 cents, at $30.75, though the stock traded as low as $27.94 during the day. And since Nov. 1, it has shed 12% of its value.
From Our Archive:
- Discount Brokerage King Steps Up in Class with U.S. Trust Purchase - January 14, 2000
- Schwab Aims to Do Banking Its Own Way - May 25, 2000
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