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Investment banks aren’t out of the woods yet

Benefits of Brexit: Richard Fisher

Wall Street's most prestigious banks are hoping for a strong rebound coming off of a terrible first quarter that prompted big banks to slash headcount to maintain profitability.

The good news is that things have gotten better; the bad news is that investors who are hoping for earnings numbers this week and next to top all of Wall Street's 2015 figures will likely be disappointed. Wall Street's major investment banks have under-performed compared to some of the top U.S. consumer banks so far this year.

"Quarter over quarter there has been a recovery in the capital markets area," Rafferty Capital vice president of equity research for financial services Dick Bove said.

Barbara Jordan | Getty Images

It's not clear whether that will be enough. Credit Suisse analysts said at the end of the second quarter that investment banking fees rose from the first quarter, but should be down double digits year-over-year compared to 2015.

Making matters worse, the percentage of revenue being sucked up by boutique banks — often staffed with big banks' one-time rainmakers — are tracking all-time highs, leaving an even smaller pool of capital for traditional banks to absorb. Plus, Washington regulators are helping to scuttle deals, putting mergers and acquisitions withdrawals at a record pace in 2016.

Still, there are yet signs that should give both big bankers and their investors a bit of optimism. Investment bank Jefferies, which reports results ahead of other Wall Street banks, posted solid second-quarter numbers when it announced earnings last month.

The market swoon that dinged Wall Street banks to start the year hampered M&A deals, and in turn, hurt investment banks' top lines. Even though markets appear to have gotten their respective groove back, big banks are lagging the trend. That said, some Wall Street pros think IPOs and deals will be back in the second half, which should hearten bank stockholders as well.

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"There's a large demand coming for investments," said Kenneth Leon, global research director with S&P Global Market Intelligence. "It's still a very healthy pipeline."

And then there's trading — the first-quarter surprise that held back Wall Street banks' revenue.

Analysts, including at Keefe Bruyette & Woods, predict that for banks like JPMorgan Chase, both equities and fixed income, currencies and commodities trading desks will post year-over-year increases. But the quarter-end trading frenzy that took place could change that for some banks.

"Until the Brexit vote, the quarterly numbers were going to be better than the first," said Christopher Whalen, senior managing director at the Kroll Bond Rating Agency.

Now, it might be anyone's guess.