For the first time in recent memory, financials investors are judging bank earnings by Main Street borrowing versus Wall Street's trading activity.
On Wednesday, Bank of America executives were pressed by analysts to determine whether loan growth—a reflection of consumers' and companies' readiness to borrow—was at an "inflection point." Chief Financial Officer Bruce Thompson wasn't willing to call a watershed just yet, saying loans will continue chugging along with the economy.
The sentiment is important, as scant volatility and low interest rates have paralyzed banks' trading powerhouses, which have seen double-digit declines for fixed-income desks, traditionally some of the most active. Bank of America touted a 5 percent rise in revenue in that unit (as trading of mortgages and municipal bonds picked up), though that becomes a 14 percent drop when certain valuation adjustments are included.