Morgan Stanley’s Rude Brush With Wall St. Protestors

Morgan Stanley’s (NYSE:MS) annual meeting on Tuesday was interrupted by Occupy Wall Street members, who questioned chairman and chief executive James Gorman on issues ranging from job creation to executive compensation.

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“I take umbrage at the suggestion that our board did anything unethical and I can’t just let that sit out there,” Gorman responded to one allegation from the protestors, adding that while some practices of the company, including those in mortgage servicing, may have been poor in the past, they were not immoral.

When the banks’ corporate secretary, Martin Cohen, was trying to read out results of stockholder votes on company proposals, the protestors interrupted him with negative comments. The meeting lasted more than an hour.

The company did manage to get an advisory approval from shareholders on its executive compensation plan during the meeting, as well as a vote in favor of letting it issue 50 million additional shares for stock grants in order to pay employees. Gorman was awarded $10.5 million in total compensation, down 25 percent from a year earlier. The compensation approval was expected, despite the recent rejection from Citigroup (NYSE:C) shareholders of their executives’ salaries, after endorsement for it from Morgan Stanley proxy advisory firms.

Gorman told members of the protest movement that “nothing is more destructive to the fabric of an economy than high unemployment,” adding that his company worked in various ways to contribute to the economy. “We manage financial wealth for individuals around the world who are saving for their children’s education and we help fund small business and are a leading underwriter in bringing new ideas to the public,” Gorman said.

Gorman told shareholders that his firm was not focused on the recent trading losses reported by JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), while answering questions about his own company’s underperforming stock. “We’d always like to see the stock trade higher,” he said, and added the fact that the stock was at half of its book value was “a little inexplicable.”

Gorman also said that it would take the company a “couple of months” to acquire the planned additional 14 percent of Citigroup’s (NYSE:C) stake in the Morgan Stanley Smith Barney retail brokerage joint venture. Morgan Stanley currently owns 51 percent of the venture.

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