US banks ride strengthening economy to blowout Q1 profits

16 April, 2021 12:00 AM printer

NEW YORK: Profits soared in the first quarter at three US banking giants thanks to an improving macroeconomic backdrop that has reduced the need to set aside funds for bad loans.

JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo each notched earnings at least four times higher than the same three-month period of 2020, boosted in part by releasing funds that had been held in reserve in anticipation of a big pandemic downturn.

JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs also had a blowout quarter in Wall Street trading and due to deals connected to companies going public, reports AFP.

Bank CEOs offered a heady outlook on the expected boom-like conditions in the coming months, but cautioned that there were challenges ahead as pent-up demand for goods, services and experiences drives activity. "We think we're going to have very robust economic growth in the second half of 2021 and into 2022," Goldman Sachs Chief Executive David Solomon said on a conference call with analysts.

The downside of that scenario is the chance for a big jump in inflation that prompts aggressive moves by the Federal Reserve to tighten monetary supply, Solomon said.

That outcome is "not obvious in the near-term," Solomon said. "But it's a risk issue markets will have to continue to watch."

At JPMorgan Chase, earnings came in at $14.3 billion, about five times the level from the prior year. The result included $5.2 billion from releases of funds set aside earlier in the pandemic due to fears of bad loans.

Revenues of $33.2 billion were up 14 percent.

JPMorgan, the largest US bank by assets, turned in an especially strong performance in corporate and investment banking, thanks to gains in advisory fees and a big increase in commissions tied to trading in financial markets.

In consumer banking, JPMorgan pointed to a return in consumer spending to pre-pandemic levels. Home lending originations were strong, but the bank expects this area to cool with higher interest rates.

But JPMorgan executives acknowledged anemic activity in many areas of lending, attributing the trend to a flood of government support programs that have lessened the need for households and businesses to turn to banks.

JPMorgan's credit card loans fell 14 percent compared to the year-ago period and wholesale loans also dropped.

"What happened is the consumer has so much money, they're paying down their credit card loan, which is good," JPMorgan Chief Executive Jamie Dimon said on a conference call with reporters.

"That's not the same as when the economy's weak on the business side."

Dimon said companies have also taken advantage of loose monetary conditions to build excess cash on their balance sheet.

"This is not bad news about loan demand," Dimon said. "This is actually good news."