NEW YORK – After JPMorgan Chase posted a record $7 billion quarterly profit, the last thing a contentious Jamie Dimon wanted to talk about Friday was his company’s earnings.
Instead, the CEO of the nation’s largest bank vented his irritation with politicians and what he called gridlock that’s preventing the economy from doing even better.
Dimon, a member of President Donald Trump’s business advisory council, has a reputation for speaking with little to no filter. He’s complained in the past that U.S. policymakers spend too much time arguing rather than improving the economy.
The U.S. economy has been expanding at less than 2 percent a year since the Great Recession, which is below the typical growth after an economic downturn. Dimon said growth would be higher if Washington gridlock would ease.
“It’s almost an embarrassment being an American citizen traveling around the world … listening to the stupid (expletive) we have to deal with in this country,” he said in a call. “At one point, we all have to get our act together or we won’t do what we’re supposed to do for the average Americans.”
As head of the nation’s biggest bank, Dimon has a big stake in how Washington operates and how the U.S. economy performs. And while Trump’s business advisory council cannot make policy decisions, it does have input on what the White House’s priorities should be for big companies like JPMorgan.
Republicans who control both houses of Congress and the White House have proposed cutting corporate income taxes, which would directly benefit JPMorgan’s bottom line, and infrastructure spending would add to U.S. gross domestic product. There is also talk about trimming back some of the strict regulations put in place following the financial crisis that bank CEOs like Dimon have argued are restricting the ability of banks to lend money.
Whether those regulations are really restricting lending is a topic of debate. Nearly all banks are making more loans, including JPMorgan Chase, and bank profits are up.
“What’s the evidence that regulations are seriously impeding the banking industry or any other industry?” said Dean Baker, an economist with the left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research.
Baker said one reason for the gridlock is the inability of Republicans to coalesce around a unified agenda. For example, some want tax cuts to stimulate growth, but other Republicans are worried about deficits that could rise if taxes were cut too sharply.
Dimon, when asked by a business journalist about the firm’s bond trading results following the Federal Reserve’s interest rate increase last month, called for reporters to focus less on the quarter-to-quarter changes in its business and more on bigger issues like infrastructure, the opioid epidemic, taxation and jobs.
“(Reporters) should be writing a lot more about that the stuff that is holding back and hurting average Americans. Who really cares about fixed-income trading in the last two weeks of June, I mean seriously?” he said.
While the bank overall has benefited from the Fed’s decision and has been making more loans across all its businesses, this quarter’s quiet stock and bond markets depressed the bank’s trading revenue by 17 percent. Fixed-income trading revenue was down 19 percent from last year, while stock trading was mostly flat.
Even so, the bank reported a profit of $7.03 billion, or $1.82 per share, an improvement from a profit $6.20 billion, or $1.55 a share, a year ago. The results beat analysts’ expectations, but its shares fell 1 percent to $92.08 in afternoon trading.
JPMorgan’s investment and corporate banking division earned $2.71 billion compared with $2.49 billion a year earlier, and saw a 17 percent rise in investment banking fees.
It was part of a trio of big banks, with Citigroup and Wells Fargo which reported their quarterly results Friday. All three reported a rise in interest income, and were generally lending more across all their businesses.
Citigroup also reported a decline in trading, albeit not as big as JPMorgan. Typically less-volatile markets result in lower trading revenue for the major banks, as its traders cannot take advantage of heavy trading and bigger swings in stock and bond prices.
One area of concern, particularly for JPMorgan, is bad loans in its credit card business. The bank also set aside more money this quarter to cover bad loans, mostly in its credit card division. JPMorgan executives have said the bank is starting to offer and approve applications for credit cards to higher-risk borrowers that it previously would have rejected.
Despite the money designated to address bad loans, Dimon said: “the U.S. consumer remains healthy.”
Government figures released Friday showed that Americans curtailed their shopping in June, with less spending at restaurants, department stores and gasoline stations. That came despite a healthy job market and suggests that economic growth could remain sluggish.
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