U.S. bankers hold onto hopes that Trump will boost profits

FAN Editor

Top U.S. bankers are still hoping that President Trump’s administration will make policy changes to boost profits, but made clear in public comments in recent days that they are not seeing any signs of progress so far.

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Optimism about tax cuts, infrastructure investment and an unwind of costly financial regulations sent bank stocks soaring after the November 2016 presidential election that ushered Donald Trump into the White House.

THE KBW bank stock index rose 28 percent through the end of February. Since then, however, the index has risen only another 2.7 percent, less than the rise in the broader stock market.

In reporting third-quarter earnings, executives at JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley said Trump’s actions so far have not driven business activity or expense reductions.

“These things are great – if and when they happen – but they’re not embedded in any of our plans,” Goldman Sachs Chief Financial Officer R. Martin Chavez said about the idea of changing financial regulations on a conference call with analysts on Tuesday.

His comments echoed those of his JPMorgan counterpart, Marianne Lake, who said last week that discussing tax reform with clients is like “talking about a hypothetical at this point.”

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The White House unveiled a nine-page tax “framework” in late-September that called for cutting the corporate tax rate, among other things, but it is unclear if or how Congress will actually adapt it into law.

Nonetheless, bankers said the pro-business tone from Washington has been encouraging after a long period of anti-Wall Street sentiment and increasingly tough regulations.

Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman said tax reform, higher interest rates, and regulatory changes could drive bank profits higher over the longer term, while Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat said he likes the direction the Trump administration is taking, even if policy changes remain uncertain.

In presentations for investors, some analysts asked bank executives if slower commercial and industrial loan growth was a result of uncertainty in Washington, but executives said that was not the case.

Bank of America’s business customers “continue to remain optimistic,” Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said last week.“They continue to look forward to continued implementation of a pro-growth agenda.”

(Reporting by David Henry in New York; Additional reporting by Dan Freed and Olivia Oran; Editing by Lauren Tara LaCapra)

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