- JPMorgan Chase's fourth-quarter earnings per share of $3.79 beat the Refinitiv estimate of $2.62.
- Revenue of $30.16 billion exceeded the expected $28.70 billion.
- The bank released $2.9 billion from its pile of cash set aside for expected loan defaults in the quarter, resulting in a $1.9 billion boost after about $1 billion in charge-offs
JPMorgan Chase on Friday beat analysts' estimates for fourth-quarter profit on record trading results and a boost from releasing money previously set aside for loan losses.
The bank posted earnings of $3.79 a share, exceeding the $2.62 per share estimate of analysts surveyed by Refinitiv. It would have beaten estimates even without the 72 cent per share boost from credit-reserve releases. The firm generated $30.16 billion in revenue, exceeding the $28.7 billion estimate.
JPMorgan shares slipped 1.3% after the earnings report.
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon cited the two major developments that happened in late 2020 – news of effective coronavirus vaccines and another round of government stimulus – as reasons for taking down his bank's reserves. The firm said it released $2.9 billion from its pile of cash set aside for expected loan defaults in the quarter, resulting in a $1.9 billion boost after about $1 billion in charge-offs.
"While positive vaccine and stimulus developments contributed to these reserve releases this quarter, our credit reserves of over $30 billion continue to reflect significant near-term economic uncertainty and will allow us to withstand an economic environment far worse than the current base forecasts by most economists," Dimon said in a statement.
Last year, banks set aside tens of billions of dollars for loan-loss reserves on the expectation that Covid-related shutdowns would force customers large and small to default on loans. Now, it appears as though the industry has turned a corner and will begin releasing some of those reserves, boosting profit and their ability to repurchase stock this year.
Dimon added that he didn't consider the $2.9 billion reserve release part of the bank's core operating results, but rather the result of calculations that "now involve multiple, multi-year hypothetical probability-adjusted scenarios, which may or may not occur" and which could bring volatility from quarter to quarter.
"These are stellar earnings from JPMorgan Chase and will set the pace for other banks to come," said Octavio Marenzi, CEO of Opimas, a capital markets management consultancy. The bank "appeared to over-reserve against credit losses in Q1 and Q2 in response to Covid, and now these reserves are being released, boosting the bank's earnings."
A bright spot in 2020 for Wall Street has been trading, which is expected to be the best year since the financial crisis in terms of total revenues, thanks to the Federal Reserve's unprecedented actions to prop up markets. Investment bankers also benefited as wide-open markets brought surging demand for IPOs and a record spate of debt issuance.
The biggest U.S. bank by assets said it posted a record fourth quarter for trading. Equities trading revenue of $1.99 billion topped the $1.84 billion estimate of analysts surveyed by Refinitiv, while fixed income revenue of $3.95 billion was just under the $4.12 billion estimate. Last month, Dimon said he expected fourth-quarter trading and investment banking revenue to be 20% higher than a year earlier.
After the earnings report, analysts may ask Dimon about succession planning because of a health scare last year. While widely reported that Dimon had heart surgery last March, he recently told The Wall Street Journal his condition was so precarious he thought he "might not make it."
Analysts will also be curious about the pace of share repurchases the bank is expecting to make. JPMorgan announced a $30 billion share repurchase program last month after the Federal Reserve said the industry could restart buybacks in the first quarter.
CFO Jennifer Piepszak told reporters during a media call that the bank could repurchase as much as $4.5 billion in stock in the first quarter.
Shares of JPMorgan slipped 8.7% last year, compared with the 4.3% decline of the KBW Bank Index.
Here are the numbers:
- Earnings: $3.79 a share, vs. $2.62 per share estimate, according to Refinitiv.
- Revenue: $30.16 billion, vs. $28.70 billion expected, according to Refinitiv.