US consumers sturdy, big banks say


    NEW YORK- Quarterly results from four of the largest US banks on Tuesday showed that American consumers are helping to prop up the economy, even as recession fears have led businesses to pull back on spending and borrowing.

    JPMorgan Chase & Co posted strength across all but one of its segments, and executives offered optimistic comments about the financial health of individuals. Citigroup beat estimates thanks to its global consumer business.

    And while profits at Wells Fargo & Co were hurt by costs related to its long-running sales scandal, the bank reported positive results in community banking, with growth in home, auto and card lending. Goldman Sachs Group Inc’s GS.N fledgling consumer bank also saw strength in loans and deposits.

    “The consumer is not under strain. The consumer is doing fine,” JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said on a call with journalists.

    He noted that geopolitical tensions – especially the US-China trade dispute – have dissuaded businesses from investing in their operations, therefore pressuring job growth.

    However, he was not convinced that the decline in business confidence would lead to higher unemployment.

    Job growth “is still positive and it may very well not go negative at this point,” Dimon said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

    Comments from Dimon and other bank executives come after a quarter in which recession fears sent markets careening, causing the US Federal Reserve to slash its key rate target twice. A key manufacturing index recently showed activity falling dramatically, hurting US job growth and wages, even though the unemployment rate is at a 50-year low.

    As the largest US bank by assets with significant operations in Europe and Asia, JPMorgan is viewed by many investors as a benchmark for how the global economy is doing.

    Its consumer division reported a 7 percent rise in net revenue and a 5 percent gain in profit in the third quarter, compared with the same period in 2018. Its margins also expanded, showing the bank was able to widen the gap between what it pays for deposits and what it charges for loans as interest rates fell during the period.

    At Citigroup, global consumer banking was the main driver of profit growth.

    Citi operates one of the largest global credit-card businesses and one of the top retail banks in Mexico. The bank posted a 4 percent rise in revenue from consumer banking in North America and internationally, when adjusting for currency fluctuations and one-time gains, and a 17 percent increase in profit before taxes.

    Chief Executive Michael Corbat characterized the economy as in good shape, and said his bank’s plans to grow deposits and boost card lending remain on track.

    Wells Fargo’s results were clouded by a $1.6 billion litigation accrual, a $1.1 billion one-time gain and a CEO transition scheduled to happen next week.

    The bank missed Wall Street’s profit expectations, but behind the headline numbers its consumer business remained relatively robust, with growth in loans and deposits.

    Goldman’s consumer business, called Marcus, is just a few years old and is tiny relative to banking rivals and its other major income streams. Of the $100 billion worth of loans on its balance sheet, just $6 billion are owed by individuals.

    But the bank’s new CEO, David Solomon, has staked a lot on retail banking. He has promised investors that the business will help transform Goldman Sachs from a trading and investment banking operation into a full-service lender – Reuters