A recent story in the Financial Times notes that all of the banks in America’s S&P 500 index have reported third-quarter earnings and, taken together, these large-cap lenders comfortably beat analyst expectations. (Article here; subscription required.)

Digging into the data, the story of the third quarter for American banks is more nuanced than simply “beat consensus”. When it comes to net income, nine out of ten of the largest banks in the S&P 500 did indeed surpass expectations, sometimes spectacularly so (Suntrust and Bank of America). Third-quarter revenues, however, mostly disappointed; seven out of ten of the largest banks missed consensus estimates on this measure.

Although welcome, falling loan-loss provisions largely explain the surprisingly robust earnings in the third quarter at big banks. Underlying revenue growth remains disappointing, a worrying sign for the longer-term health of the American banking system.  

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