Tax cuts, deregulation and a buoyant economy were always expected to drive profits higher at most American banks in the latest quarter.
But would banks significantly increase their lending to businesses and households? On Friday, earnings reports from four of the United States' biggest banks showed scant evidence of such a revival.
JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. and PNC all reported another quarter of healthy profits, most of which will end up in shareholders' pockets. Wells Fargo & Co., operating under regulatory constraints after a series of scandals, reported a decline in profit.
Overall, lending at the four banks grew only 2.1 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, according to an analysis by The New York Times. That represents a slowdown from the 3 percent rise in the first quarter. It is also well below the 4.6 percent increase in loans that the four banks achieved in all of 2016, the last full year of the Obama administration.
The Trump administration has contended that many of the regulations introduced after the financial crisis a decade ago to make banks stronger have held back lending and weighed on the wider economy.
A pickup in lending may yet occur. Looser regulations and the robust economy can take time to translate into more lending. Tax cuts have increased cash flows at companies, perhaps reducing the near-term demand for loans. Higher interest rates may also be deterring borrowers. And banks may be holding back because they do not want to extend loans that have a higher chance of defaulting.
Even so, the banks have plenty of spare cash they could use right now to fuel higher lending if they wanted to. Instead, they have opted to make large payments to shareholders in the form of dividends and stock buybacks.
"As we sit here right now today, I would characterize demand as being solid, as being decent — it's not what it was two years ago," JPMorgan Chase's chief financial officer, Marianne Lake, said on a conference call with journalists. She said growth in construction loans had slowed in part because businesses were using cash from their tax cuts to expand instead of taking out more loans.
JPMorgan, the nation's largest bank, had the fastest loan growth among the four banks. Its total loans grew by 4.4 percent.
Bankruptcy filings drop nationwide but remain highest in the nation in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia