Over recent days a number of banks including Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Wells Fargo and most recently BoA have revealed a return to profitability in Q1. In Citigroup’s case it has been reported that earnings were helped by an accounting change that allowed it to post a one off gain of $2.5 billion. However, it’s stock price was unlikely to have been helped by the announcement of a delay to the planned sale of a stake of 36% to the US authorities until the results of the bank stress tests are known.
There is no doubt that US banks are being helped by strengthening mortgage demand due to low interest rates, improved liquidity in markets and the huge amounts of money that the government is pumping into banks. High volatility has also helped boost trading revenues. Nonetheless, uncertainty about the outlook in the months ahead continues to grow due to the risks from corporate loan defaults, a slide in the commercial real estate market and rising consumer loan delinquencies.
This suggests it will be difficult for markets to get too bullish even if banks continue to report decent Q1 earnings. Perhaps demonstrating this, even Citigroup’s better than expected earnings failed to prevent its shares falling on the day of its earnings announcement. This was followed by a fall in BoA’s shares today in pre-market trading despite revealing that profits tripled in Q1.
Indeed, there are appears to be a degree of nervousness creeping back into markets, indicating that the improvement in risk appetite over recent weeks could be stalling as uncertainty about what lies ahead intensifies. BoA’s increase in provisions for credit losses in Q1 highlights where this nervousness is coming from. The results of US bank stress tests is the next hurdle for markets and if anything this could lead to more market tensions, especially if some of the banks are found to be requiring additional capital which looks increasingly likely to be the case.