Morgan Stanley's Handoff Cheers Investors: The Ticker

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By George Anders

Regardless of whether he was coming or going at Morgan Stanley, John Mack always managed to stir excitement in the bank's stock.

The first flutter came in 2001, when Mack quit Morgan Stanley after a 29-year career at the firm, caught up in personality clashes that ensued from the company's merger with Dean Witter. The stock slumped at the time. Four years later, rumors that Mack was coming back as chief executive officer caused Morgan Stanley's shares to climb. The shares climbed an additional 1 percent, to about $53, on the day Mack took office.

Today, the 66-year-old Mack announced that he will be leaving as chairman, effective at year-end. This time, Morgan Stanley's shares surged 5.8 percent in afternoon trading, to $16.38 apiece. Mack's exit wasn't a big surprise; he had already ceded the CEO title last year to 53-year-old James Gorman, who will become chairman too. Still Mack's decision to step down marked the end of an era.

Perhaps investors are impressed by Mack's smooth execution of a succession plan. More likely, they see Gorman as a steadier hand at the helm. Mack bet heavily on trading profits early in his time as CEO, a strategy that worked well at first but then unraveled amid skidding markets in 2008. More recently, he grew the firm's retail brokerage business by acquisition. Morgan Stanley's earnings remain well below their 2006 peak.

-0- Sep/15/2011 18:52 GMT