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BANKING

Banks raise earnings expectations

Last month executives of the world’s largest banks, alarmed at collapsing share prices, told everyone what a profitable start to 2009 they had enjoyed. By the end of the month, shares were rallying. Let’s hope that actual first-quarter 2009 earnings announcements don’t pour cold water on their hopes. Peter Lee reports.

JPMORGAN STARTED IT at the very end of February. Mike Cavanagh, chief financial officer, told analysts that results for the first two months of the year had been "solidly profitable", and roughly in line with his audience’s forecasts, which are for $40 billion in pre-provision pre-tax profit for the year.

It would, however, be preposterous to pretend that credit costs won’t eat into this.

Not to be outdone, Vikram Pandit took up the cheerleading last month, first touting Citi’s position as the strongest capitalized large US bank, with tangible common equity of up to $81 billion. Tangible common equity was a measure the bank used to dismiss back in the days when leading analyst Meredith Whitney was pointing out how its ratio had been dangerously eroded by the acquisition of risk assets.

Now, following an exchange of preferred stock into common equity matched by new investment from the US government, Citi likes the way its capital stacks up by that measure. It is only disappointed that investors continue to question its asset quality, and, with shareholders being diluted and the stock selling off, Pandit chose to announce that "we are profitable through the first two months of 2009 and are having our best quarter-to-date performance since the third quarter of 2007.