JPMorgan Chase disappoints on loan loss reserves--bank sector earnings pop delayed

04/15/2010 8:30 am EST

Focus: STOCKS

Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor, JubakPicks.com

I wish I could be as optimistic about the first quarter results posted yesterday by JPMorgan Chase (JPM) as the stock market was. The market apparently focused on the 74 cents a share in earnings—a great big 11 cents a share above Wall Street projections. The stock climbed $1.86 or 4.04% on the news.

But I was looking to see if the bank had turned the quarter on loan loss reserves. When a bank stops having to deduct from earnings to reserve for growing bad loans, earnings per share can soar. As the big bank least damaged by the financial crisis, I expect JPMorgan Chase to signal a shift that will ripple out to banks all across the sector. And I was hoping to see signs in first quarter earnings that this shift would be  upon us as early as next quarter.

No such luck.

The bank did release $1 billion in credit card loan loss reserves. That was the kind of move I was looking for across the bank.

But JPMorgan Chase more than made up for that release by adding loan loss reserves for other types of consumer lending.

In its retail financial services business, which includes retail banking, and mortgage and other consumer lending the provision for credit losses in the quarter was $3.7 billion. That’s down from the fourth quarter but down a relatively scant $496 million. The loan loss reserves included $1.2 billion for further deterioration in the portfolios JPMorgan Chase purchased when it bought Washington Mutual.

But there were plenty of home grown problems too. The bank charged off $1.1 billion in home equity loans, even with the $1.1 billion in charge offs in the first quarter of 2009. Another $457million in charge offs came in the bank’s subprime mortgage portfolios. That was actually an increase from the $364 million in charge offs in the first quarter of 2009. Prime mortgage charge offs came in at $459 million, up from $312 million in the first quarter of 2009.

Management did say that delinquencies were down for all types of mortgages and for credit cards too. That’s a positive sign since today’s delinquencies have a nasty habit of becoming tomorrow’s bad loans.

But even that good news means that the turn in bad loans and loan loss reserves is still a way off.

How far off? Bank of America (BAC) reports before the open on Friday, April 16 and Wells Fargo before the open on April 21. Maybe those big banks will give investors the good news on loan loss reserves that JPMorgan Chase didn’t.

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