The headquarters of JPMorgan Chase in New York, US. Picture: REUTERS
The headquarters of JPMorgan Chase in New York, US. Picture: REUTERS

JPMorgan Chase just posted the best year for any US bank in history.

Fuelled by a rebound in trading, especially in fixed income, the company said on Tuesday profit jumped 21% in the fourth quarter, pushing annual earnings to a record $36.4bn. The announcement led off this week’s round of industry profit reports on a high note, though analysts are predicting results for 2020 will come back down to earth.

Fourth-quarter fixed-income trading revenue came in $1bn higher than analysts predicted as the bank benefited from an active final few weeks of the year and gains in securitised products and rates. It marked a stark comeback from the previous year’s fourth quarter, when wild market swings kept clients on the sidelines and JPMorgan’s bond-trading unit posting its lowest revenue since the financial crisis.

“They are really hitting it out of the park,” said Alison Williams, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “The other key positive, which looks more sustainable, is that interest income looks like it’s stabilising. That was a big worry last year.”

Shares of the company, which have surged 36% in the past 12 months, advanced 1.5% to $139.30 in early New York trading at 7.37am.

Still, after the best year for bank stocks in more than two decades, investors are starting to question how much longer the era of record profits can go on. Last week, analysts at UBS cut their outlook on shares of JPMorgan to neutral, citing a “high bar for further outperformance”.

JPMorgan, which plans to host an investor day in February, didn’t provide any annual targets for 2020. But the company said it expects net interest income to fall to about $14bn in the first quarter. It also said expenses would rise to roughly $17bn in the three months to the end of March. That would be the highest in more than six years.

The biggest US bank generated $4.95bn in trading revenue in the quarter, a 56% increase that was better than analysts expected. That marked the best fourth quarter for the firm’s trading desks in more than a decade.

In 2019, JPMorgan elevated bond veteran Troy Rohrbaugh to head of global markets, where he oversees all of fixed-income and equity trading. He’s been critical in decisions to invest in electronic and mobile trading improvements across asset classes.

“While we face a continued high level of complex geopolitical issues, global growth stabilised, albeit at a lower level, and resolution of some trade issues helped support client and market activity towards the end of the year,” Jamie Dimon, the bank’s CEO, said in a statement.

In December, JPMorgan CFO Jennifer Piepszak told investors to expect better performance for the last three months of 2019, thanks to gains in the fixed-income business. The bank’s overall profit in 2019 topped the previous industry record, set by the company in 2018.

It was the best year for the corporate and investment bank since at least 2011, when it started reporting under its current structure.

Bloomberg