Largest US Banks Grapple With Worst Write-Offs in Three Years

The biggest US banks are poised to write off more bad loans than they have since the early days of the pandemic as higher-for-longer interest rates and a potential economic downturn are putting borrowers in a bind.

(Bloomberg) — The biggest US banks are poised to write off more bad loans than they have since the early days of the pandemic as higher-for-longer interest rates and a potential economic downturn are putting borrowers in a bind. 

JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co., which report third-quarter results Friday, will join Bank of America Corp. — which comes Tuesday — in posting roughly $5.3 billion in combined third-quarter net charge-offs, the highest for the group since the second quarter of 2020, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. 

The figure is more than twice as high as a year earlier, as lenders contend with consumers struggling to keep up with rising interest rates and a commercial real estate industry still grappling with fallout from the pandemic. Citigroup Chief Executive Officer Jane Fraser said last month that her bank is starting to see signs of weakness in US consumers with low credit scores, who have had their savings eaten away by historic levels of inflation. Still, she said the vast majority have been able to handle the rate increases.

“Any hiccups in credit will be punished by the market,” Erika Najarian, an analyst at UBS Group AG, said in a note to clients. “That said, there has been surprisingly little conversation about third quarter credit quality for large cap banks, even on either commercial real estate or some of the more publicized bankruptcies.”


Worsening credit quality suggests banks may have to set aside more money to cover sour loans should the economy deteriorate. Higher provisions to cover bad debt would eat into earnings. 

In addition to deteriorating credit quality, analysts and investors will be watching prospects for net interest income — the difference between what banks earn on loans and how much they pay out on deposits. Looming increases in capital requirements and expectations for a decline in investment-banking revenue are additional headwinds. 

Amid the obstacles crimping results, the KBW Bank Index has lost 23% this year, with Bank of America’s 18% drop the steepest among the four largest firms. New York-based JPMorgan is up 8.6% this year, the only one in the group showing a gain. 

Here are some of the key metrics analysts will be watching:

Unrealized Losses 

Banks’ securities portfolios will probably show an increase in unrealized losses in the third quarter after a steep rise in yields eroded the value of their investments, according to analysts. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. pegged second-quarter unrealized losses at $558.4 billion, up 8% from the period before. 

But even if those losses increased, they don’t pose the kind of threat that ended up sinking Silicon Valley Bank, Signature Bank and First Republic Bank earlier this year. Deposits have stabilized since then, meaning lenders won’t be forced to sell the assets and book the losses. 

Read More: Wall Street’s Paper Bond Losses Rear Head Again as Yields Rise

Net Interest Income

NII probably dropped from the second quarter because of rising deposit costs and intensifying competition, trends that continued in the third quarter.

“Net interest income, which is a large source of revenue for the banks, will be under pressure in the near term as loan growth is subdued and deposit costs increase,” Jason Goldberg, an analyst at Barclays Capital, said in an interview. 

The pressure from rising rates has hit regional lenders particularly hard, as evidenced by the series of bank failures earlier this year.

JPMorgan will be an NII outlier because of benefits it’s experiencing from the acquisition of First Republic, announced in May. In July, the bank raised its full-year guidance for net interest income to $87 billion from $84 billion. 

Investment Banking 

Advisory fees are likely to remain depressed, with a rebound in merger activity still in the distance, while underwriting businesses will probably show increases from last year’s weak levels. Total investment-banking revenue for the five largest firms probably dropped to $6.03 billion from $6.42 billion in the same quarter last year, according to analysts’ estimates.

Banks have been cutting headcount in response to the downturn in fee revenue. Citigroup already axed about 5,000 jobs this year, moves that cost the company $400 million in severance charges in the second quarter alone.

Trading Revenue

Citigroup is the only top bank that’s expected to post an increase in third-quarter revenue from trading. Chief Financial Officer Mark Mason said last month that the business has been getting a lift from increased activity in fixed-income, currencies and commodities markets.

The company’s markets revenue, which was also helped by strength in equity cash trading, is likely to rise by a percentage in the “low single digits,” Mason said at an investor conference.

Despite Citigroup’s gains, revenue from trading for the five largest banks is expected to decrease to $24.7 billion from $25.8 billion a year earlier. For much of the year, Citigroup and its rivals have been facing tough comparisons to 2022, when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine roiled markets and spurred volatility across the globe.

Capital Rules

This earnings season marks the first since federal regulators published a report outlining new capital rules they plan to impose on large banks. Investors will look for commentary from bank executives outlining how they plan to deal with the new requirements and how they view the potential impact on their capital ratios.

The proposals by the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency are tied to Basel III, an international regulatory agreement that began more than a decade ago in response to the 2008 financial crisis. 

Read More: Barr Defends Bank Capital Rule Plan Blasted by Wall Street

Wall Street’s biggest lenders say that increased capital requirements could slow the US economy and put them on weaker footing against non-bank lenders and European rivals. The top banks have been preparing for the regulations to possibly wipe out almost all of the excess capital they stashed away over the past decade, likely crimping shareholder buybacks for years to come.

–With assistance from Hannah Levitt, Max Reyes, Keith Gerstein and Jenny Surane.

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