Morgan Stanley rolled forward its plan to reduce its risky assets as the Wall Street bank focuses on generating a higher return on equity, a measure where it lags its rivals.

The bank, which has reported a sharp fall in quarterly profit due to large legal bills, delivered an adjusted return on equity of 6% in 2013, far short of the 11% generated by Goldman Sachs & Co.

Net income from continuing operations applicable to the company fell to $192 million, or 7 cents per share, in the fourth quarter from $661 million, or 33 cents per share, in the same quarter of 2012.
Excluding items such as $1.2 billion in legal expenses, the bank earned 50 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters IBES, beating the average analyst estimate of 45 cents.

Morgan Stanley, which has been working to reduce its risk-weighted assets to below $200 billion by 2016, said it would now aim to reach that target by 2015.

The bank plans to reduce its risky holdings largely by shedding fixed-income assets that tie up too much capital under new banking regulations.

Chief Executive James Gorman has also been shifting the bank's focus to less-risky products that can be traded electronically and cleared through exchanges.

Revenue from Morgan Stanley's wealth management business, which has become increasingly important as the bank moves away from risky trading, rose 12.2% from a year earlier to $3.73 billion, accounting for 47.6% of total revenue.

The profit margin in that business was 20%, excluding an impairment charge. Gorman had set a target of at least 20%.

Morgan Stanley, the last of the major US banks to report quarterly results, said it would now aim for a pretax margin for the wealth business of 22 to 25% by the fourth-quarter of 2015.

The business has lagged major rivals on that measure. Bank of America Corp's wealth business, for example, delivered a pretax margin of 26.6% in the quarter.

Morgan Stanley bought Citigroup Inc's last remaining stake in the wealth business in July and the unit's deposits are gradually being transferred.

The bank's total net revenue from continuing operations rose 12.5% to $7.83 billion.

Revenue from fixed-income trading fell 14.4% to $694 million. 

The bond market began to soften in the middle of the year as investors braced for the Federal Reserve to start scaling back its bond-buying stimulus and longer-term yields rose.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Citigroup also reported weaker results from fixed-income trading in the quarter, while JPMorgan Chase & Co and Bank of America Corp produced higher revenue.

As for most Wall Street banks, the equities market was a bright spot for Morgan Stanley in the latest quarter.

Equities trading revenue rose to $1.5 billion from $1.4 billion, while equity underwriting revenue rose 75% to $416 million, thanks to an increase in both initial public offerings and secondary stock offerings.

Revenue from the bank's investment management business rose 40.6% to $842 million.