Big banks warn of uncertain year ahead after mixed financial performances in the first quarter

FILE - Pedestrians approach JPMorgan Chase headquarters on Dec. 29, 2023, in New York. JP Morgan reports earnings on Friday, April 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter Morgan, File)
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NEW YORK (AP) — Big banks warned of an “uncertain” year ahead after mixed financial results during the first quarter in an environment of stubbornly high inflation and geopolitical clashes in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere.

JPMorgan reported a modest 6% rise in profits Friday while profits at Wells Fargo and Citigroup declined, though both topped Wall Street expectations.

“Many economic indicators continue to be favorable. However, looking ahead, we remain alert to a number of significant uncertain forces,” JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said, citing the wars in Gaza and Ukraine as well as other geopolitical pressures, high levels of government spending across the world and “persistent inflationary pressures.”

Dimon used language Friday that was similar to what he told investors in his annual shareholder letter earlier this week. In that letter, Dimon warned that geopolitical events including the war in Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas war, as well as U.S. political polarization, could be creating an environment that “may very well be creating risks that could eclipse anything since World War II.”

Dimon's shareholder letter on Monday seemed prophetic two days later when the U.S. released hotter-than-expected inflation data for March, putting uncomfortably high consumer prices back at the top of agenda for policymakers, particularly President Joe Biden in his bid for a second term in the White House.

In call with reporters, Citigroup executives echoed Dimon's comments. Mark Mason, Citi's chief financial officer, said that while the bank still sees an economic soft landing — where inflation cools while keeping the economy growing — risks to the economy abound.

“The global economy seems to be resilient,” Mason said, but that the bank remains concerned about inflation and what will happen as interest rates remain elevated for a longer period of time.

JPMorgan, the nation's largest bank, earned a profit of $13.42 billion, or $4.44 a share, compared with a profit of $12.62 billion, or $4.10 a share, in the same period a year earlier. JPMorgan's results were pulled lower by a $725 million one-time charge for an assessment by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

While it topped analyst expectations, shares of JPMorgan fell more than 5% Friday after the bank released conservative full-year projections for net interest income. That forecast largely reflects the bank's expectation that the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates later this year.

Most metrics of JPMorgan's business were solid for the quarter. While investment banking revenues were largely flat, the bank reported an uptick in activity. In its consumer bank, profits rose 6% and the bank set aside less money to cover potentially bad loans.

Wells Fargo issued its first earnings report since the Biden administration eased some of the restrictions on the bank after a series of scandals.

Wells earned $4.6 billion in the first quarter, or $1.20 per share, beating analyst estimates of $1.06 per share. However, the profit was less than the $5 billion, or $1.23 per share, that Wells earned in the same period a year ago.

The San Francisco bank said average loans fell from last year’s first quarter but that drop-off was expected because of elevated interest rates.

In February, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, one of the regulators of big national banks like Wells Fargo, terminated a consent order that had been in place since September 2016. The order — which came after Wells’ employees were found to have opened millions of accounts illegally in order to meet unrealistic sales goals — required the bank to overhaul how it sold financial products to customers and provide additional consumer protections, as well as employee protections for whistleblowers.

Citigroup profits dropped 27% from a year earlier as the bank continues to restructure itself after selling off much of its international franchises and slims down after the pandemic.

Citi earned $3.37 billion, or $1.58 a share, compared with a profit of $4.6 billion, or $2.19 a share, a year earlier.

Wells shares rose slightly Friday, while Citigroup shares fell more than 2%.

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AP Business Writer Matthew Ott contributed to this report from Washington.