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Continued: Earnings pop at big banks, but under headline numbers are worries over mortgages, consumers

  • Article by: CHRISTINA REXRODE , AP Business Writer
  • Last update: July 17, 2013 - 5:50 PM

Chris Whalen, managing director at Carrington Investment Services, said that most of the banks' earnings growth this season came from cutting costs and releasing some of the money they had previously set aside for bad loans.

"There wasn't a lot of strong revenue growth," Whalen said. "It's the same story we've had for the past few quarters."

—THE REFINANCING BOOM: Mortgages have helped drive results at the banks for the past year, but it's not clear how much longer that will last. Most of the boom has come from people refinancing their mortgages, rather than buying new homes, and that is likely to peter out as interest rates rise.

In a call with analysts, JPMorgan's chief financial officer, Marianne Lake, said that if rates stay at or above their current levels, the mortgage refinancing market could be slashed by 30 to 40 percent — more than analysts were expecting.

"Hopefully we're wrong," Lake said, "and hopefully it will be better than that."

Mortgage applications at JPMorgan and Wells Fargo were both down compared with a year ago, including a 30 percent drop at Wells. Bank of America's leaders noted that their pipeline of mortgage applications had fallen 5 percent over the quarter.

Whalen said that the main takeaway from this season's earnings is that mortgage volumes "are going to fall even faster than we thought," he said. "So all the analysts that have been out there banging the table, bullish on this, have to reassess."

—THE REGULATORY OVERHANG: Another hot topic during bank earnings was the so-called leverage ratio.

Last week, U.S. regulators proposed rules that would require big U.S. banks to hold greater levels of capital. The regulators say that having more cash on hand will protect banks in troubled times.

While the new rules wouldn't take effect until 2018, and the banks said they are already at or near many of the proposed capital levels, the debate was another reminder of the government's stricter control over the industry. The banks say the new rules could constrain them from lending and put them at a disadvantage to international competitors.

Bank of America Chief Financial Officer Bruce Thompson said in a call with analysts that there is concern that "some of the policies out there (could) possibly have an impact on the availability of undrawn credit." If banks are required to hold higher rates of capital, he said, then "by definition" the cost of that credit "will need to migrate up."

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