Bank loans and leases fell $87.4 billion to $6.97 trillion from the end of 2010 through March 30, or 1.3 percent, according to Federal Reserve data. Deposits at U.S. banks rose the same percentage to $7.97 trillion, showing households and businesses are still hoarding cash instead of borrowing, analysts said.
“While loan growth tends to be seasonally weak in the first quarter, this quarter is tracking worse than seasonality would suggest,” Barclays Capital Inc. analysts led by Jason Goldberg wrote in an April 8 report. “We fear companies have been disappointed.”
Investors will get their first look at the quarter’s results tomorrow when New York-based JPMorgan, ranked second by assets in the U.S., is scheduled to report. The biggest lender, Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America, will report April 15, followed next week by New York-based Citigroup Inc. (C) and San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), ranked third and fourth by assets.
Profits may have increased even with declining revenue as lenders set aside fewer funds to cover loan losses and in some cases released reserves they’ve already built up, said Matt Burnell, a banking analyst at Wells Fargo. Cost reductions may also help the bottom line in a smaller way, Burnell said.
Lack of loan demand is just one of the constraints on revenue facing banks as new regulations limit proprietary trading and fees on overdrafts and debit cards. Bank stocks trailed this year’s 5.3 percent rise in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, with the 24-company KBW Bank Index (BKX) little changed.
While trading revenue was credited for bolstering last year’s profit, lenders still depend on net interest income, the money made on lending and securities investment. That accounted for 46 percent of 2010 revenue at Bank of America and 53 percent at Wells Fargo. The figure was 50 percent for JPMorgan and 63 percent for Citigroup.
JPMorgan, led by Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon, 55, may report adjusted net income rose 41 percent over the year- earlier quarter to $4.68 billion, according to the median estimate of 14 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Revenue probably declined 9.5 percent to $25 billion, analysts estimate.
Bank of America, headed by CEO Brian T. Moynihan, 51, may report a 2.8 percent decline in profit to $3.09 billion on a 19 percent decline in revenue to $26.5 billion, according to a Bloomberg survey of 14 analysts. The bank told investors in January that net interest income would decline in the first quarter from the last period of 2010, and then level off “sometime in the second.”
Revenue may fall 20 percent at Citigroup, led by CEO Vikram Pandit, 54, and 1.3 percent at Wells Fargo, headed by John Stumpf, 57, according to Bloomberg’s survey. First-quarter profit may rise 41 percent to $3.56 billion at Wells Fargo, and decline 36 percent to $2.84 billion at Citigroup, according to Bloomberg’s survey. Spokesmen for all four banks declined to comment.
Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Chris Kotowski estimates that banks in his coverage universe, which includes the four largest, will say loans outstanding declined by about 1.5 percent, according to a March 24 report.
Weak spots include U.S. consumers, who are cutting credit- card use and slowing home purchases. Closed-end residential mortgage loans fell 3.3 percent in the first quarter, while credit-card and other revolving loans fell 1.2 percent, according to the Fed. Consumer and residential home loans account for about 54 percent of total defined bank lending, Fed data shows.
Some of the biggest banks are still constrained by weak balance sheets or aren’t replacing loans with new ones when they mature, CreditSights Inc. analysts led by David Hendler wrote in an April 10 note. For example, JPMorgan may cut as much as $10 billion from its credit-card portfolio in the first quarter, and said its residential real-estate book may decline as much as 15 percent per year, Hendler wrote.
Lenders may not get much help this time from investment- banking and trading revenue, which analysts are predicting may fall for the fourth straight year-over-year quarter. Guy Moszkowski at Bank of America lowered first-quarter earnings estimates last month at Citigroup and JPMorgan, as well as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley, saying trading revenue won’t rebound as much as he had expected from a weak fourth quarter.
One area of strength may be commercial and industrial loans, used by companies to purchase inventory or improve technology and other capital-intensive parts of their business. Total C&I loans increased to $1.25 trillion in the week ended March 30, the seventh week of increases in the last nine, Fed data show. Wells Fargo’s average loan balance advanced 1 percent in the first quarter, fueled by C&I lending, Goldberg estimates.
“That’s likely to continue; the business sector is doing well in general,” said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Pierpont Securities LLC in Stamford, Connecticut, and a former Fed economist. Demand isn’t stronger because the cash hoard held by U.S. corporations “limits their appetite” for bank loans, Stanley said.
Nonfinancial corporations based in the U.S. held $1.89 trillion in liquid assets, including cash, at the end of December, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
“That seems to be the one bright spot,” said Burnell at Wells Fargo. For everything else, “you’re still looking for negative loan growth.”
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