Earnings Mixed for Large Banks in Q4

A drop in capital markets earnings and heavy costs from defending lawsuits were a drag on universal bank earnings last quarter.
Matthew HellerFebruary 2, 2015
Earnings Mixed for Large Banks in Q4

Fourth-quarter 2014 earnings for the 17 largest U.S. banks were mixed as revenue growth continued to be hurt by low interest rates and relatively modest loan growth, putting pressure on spread income, Fitch Ratings reports.

Large regional and trust and processing banks posted fairly good results, Fitch said, but the five global trading and universal banks (GTUB) were weaker amid a sizable drop in capital markets activities and continuing legal fees.

“With little short-term interest rate movement expected in first-half 2015, bank revenue growth is likely to remain challenged over the near term,” Fitch said. “Earnings will be further impacted by hard-to-sustain cost controls and rising provisions. Offsetting these pressures may be a boost from mortgage refinancing activity, while advisory fees are expected to remain solid.”

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Capital markets revenues for the GTUB group were down 17% on a linked-quarter basis, and down 11% from a year ago, and Fitch expects litigation-related costs to “remain elevated over the near term, with a host of pending issues, including LIBOR-related investigations, possible currency market manipulations, and legacy private-label securitizations, still to be resolved.”

On the expenses side, 11 of the 17 banks reported higher spending on a sequential basis for litigation; technology enhancements, such as cybersecurity efforts; and regulatory and compliance efforts.

Commercial and industry loan growth was a bright spot, though loan yields have not fared as well, falling by an average of roughly 30 basis points. None of the banks has more than a 5% exposure to energy-related loans, Fitch noted, but “there may be impacts to C&I loan growth, CRE asset quality, capital markets revenues, and certain regional economies that have been particular benefactors of the energy boom.”