Optimism is taking hold among the country’s largest banks. With vaccines beginning to be administered to the most vulnerable Americans and a new round of economic stimulus on the way, banks on Friday revealed that they had begun to pare back the enormous reserves they had socked away in case of an economic disaster.
“Thank God for the vaccine, folks” JPmorgan’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon, said on a call with reporters on Friday.
JPMorgan Chase, the largest U.S. bank, ended 2020 on a strong note, releasing $2.9 billion from an emergency pool of money, which helped push its profit 42 percent higher in the fourth quarter.
Citigroup and Wells Fargo also reported loosening their rainy-day funds.
Citigroup said on Friday that it had released nearly $1.5 billion, but it was not enough to raise its quarterly earnings above what it earned in the same period in 2019. The bank reported a profit of $4.6 billion on revenue of $16.5 billion. Both its revenue and its earnings were lower than they were a year earlier.
And Wells Fargo released $757 million from its reserve pool, but it said the change was driven by the sale of its student loan business rather than any reassessment of its economic outlook. The bank earned $3 billion in the fourth quarter, just slightly more than it did in the same quarter in 2019, even though its revenue fell to nearly $18 billion from $19.8 billion.
JPMorgan revealed its reserve release in a report on its fourth-quarter financial results on Friday, when it reported earnings of just over $12 billion, although the increase, from the same period last year, was attributed mostly to the newly freed funds. The bank’s revenue was 3 percent higher, at $30 billion, compared with the same quarter a year earlier.
Regular recalculations of how much money the bank would need in the event of a disaster had led to the release, Mr. Dimon said in a statement accompanying the bank’s results, but he added that there was still plenty more saved up in case a downturn occurred.
“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,” he said.
The results showed that JPMorgan’s retail customers have been buying houses and cars. Mortgages and auto loans rose 20 percent compared with a year earlier. The bank’s profit from stock trading jumped 32 percent, while earnings from trading in bonds, currencies, commodities and other products rose 15 percent from the same period a year earlier.
Citi’s earnings were hit by reduced activity by its credit card users around the world. Deposits grew in its global bank by 19 percent, but the amount it earned from card usage declined, sending overall revenue 14 percent lower. On Wall Street, Citi bested its performance a year earlier. Stock trading earnings rose 57 percent, while earnings from trading in bonds and other products increased 7 percent.
Wells Fargo’s chief executive, Charles W. Scharf, said the bank’s results, which showed significant expenses that cut into its ability to earn profits, reflected its efforts to move on from its past abusive practices. The bank has had to revamp how it monitors its operations to identify illegal or harmful activities, and has plowed significant sums into the overhaul.
“We are making progress,” Mr. Scharf said in a statement accompanying the financial results. He noted that the improved economic outlook offered an additional source of hope.
“With a more consistent, broad-based recovery, and as we continue to press forward with our agenda, we expect you will see that this franchise is capable of much more,” Mr. Scharf said.