US Banks Report Good Earnings, But Warn Of Hit If No More Stimulus

Large US banks reported better-than-expected results Tuesday on an improving economy, but cautioned that the recovery could falter if Washington fails to enact new stimulus measures.

“It’s important and it needs to happen as quickly as possible,” said Citi Chief Financial Officer Mark Mason, who added that massive spending from Washington has helped avert a tidal wave of delinquencies so far.

JPMorgan Chase executives warned of a “double-dip” recession if there is not another package. That takes place when a second period of economic contraction follows an initial recovery.

“The people we need to help the most are small businesses and the unemployed,” said JPMorgan Chief Executive Jamie Dimon, who said Washington’s actions will determine whether it needs to take much higher reserves for bad loans.

“If the better outcomes happen” with a good a stimulus package, “we are over reserved by $10 billion,” he said. But if there is a double-dip recession, the bank could be “unreserved by $20 billion,” Dimon added.

The comments came as both JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup released earnings that showed a big improvement from the last two quarters, when both companies set aside billions of dollars in reserves for bad loans in the wake of coronavirus shutdowns.

JPMorgan Chase, kicking off a deluge of results from large financial companies, reported $9.4 billion in profits, up four percent from the year-ago period as revenues were down slightly at $29.9 billion.

But after nearly $20 billion in credit costs in the first half of 2020, JPMorgan reported just $611 million in credit costs in the third quarter. That figure included a boost from $569 million in reserve releases.

As in the second quarter, when volatility boosted trading activity, JPMorgan again scored higher revenue from its markets division.

Shares of JPMorgan Chase rose after it reported better-than-expected results and avoided hefty reserves for bad loans Shares of JPMorgan Chase rose after it reported better-than-expected results and avoided hefty reserves for bad loans Photo: AFP / Johannes EISELE

On the downside, the bank reported a decline in net interest income in the wake of Federal Reserve actions to keep rates low to boost the economy.

JPMorgan lifted its forecast for the US economy and now projects a fourth-quarter contraction of 5.4 percent and a second-quarter 2021 contraction of 3.7 percent, both incrementally better than their forecasts in the second quarter of 2020.

Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Piepszak said many consumers have higher cash balances than before the pandemic and have avoided taking on debt.

“Things do feel better than we thought they would,” she said, adding that “the uncertainty is still very very high.”

Citigroup reported a 34 percent drop in quarterly earnings to $3.2 billion behind a seven percent decline in revenues to $17.3 billion.

The results featured the same basic trends as with JPMorgan, boosted by strong trading results and lower reserves for bad loans.

At the same time, Citi was buffeted by a hit from lower interest rates and a $400 million civil penalty from regulators over lax internal controls announced last week by US authorities. The company’s share price fell sharply during a conference call with analysts when executives were pressed about the settlement.

Households have been spared bruising delinquencies in the pandemic due to hefty US fiscal relief spending earlier in the year, bank executives said. But the stalemate in Washington over new stimulus looms as a risk for the US economy.

“The stimulus program that was announced has been quite beneficial. It has bridged many consumers,” Mason said. “The longer we go without some kind of vaccine that’s been tried and tested, the greater the need for additional stimulus.”

Shares of JPMorgan dropped 1.6 percent to $100.78, while Citigroup dropped 4.8 percent to $43.68.

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