Bank health comes under the microscope

The JPMorgan Chase building is seen in New York City.

KAI RYSSDAL: I know, I know, I know -- it's three years since the financial crisis, and still we keep coming back to the banks. Believe me when I tell you we'd rather not, but the simple truth is: banks matter. They need to be fixed, that's true. Which is why we've got the Volcker Rule being talked about and Dodd-Frank the reform bill, and for that matter, Occupy Wall Street.

But we're only going to be able to fix so much. So we need to know how they're doing. Tomorrow, JPMorgan Chase kicks off a week of bank earnings -- and with it the latest indicators of how healthy the biggest banks are.

Our New York bureau chief Heidi Moore has the story.


HEIDI MOORE: Think back on the past three months. The U.S. flirted with default. Any bank that held Greek bonds was regarded with suspicion. Bank of America share price barely exceeded its ATM fees. So how'd our banks pull through?

FRED CANNON: The biggest question today isn't "Are the banks safe?" In fact, despite concerns in Europe, we think the banks are in good financial position. The real question is: "Can they earn any money?" This quarter is going to be a real test of that.

That's Fred Cannon, the director of research for Keefe Bruyette & Woods. He said banks are still contending with troubles in Europe, bad mortgages, a slow economy, volatile markets, and low interest rates that are hurting business.

CANNON: We're going to see those biggest banks struggle a lot. Expectations have come down a lot for them.

One of the biggest challenges the banks face is: you. Me. Us. In banking, checking accounts, savings accounts, and mortgages for regular people are called the retail business.

Ken Landis is a consultant to the financial industry at Deloitte.

KEN LANDIS: Retail banking is still the lifeblood of U.S. banking because it is the primary source of deposits that banks use to fund their lending activities.

All those new fees banks are going to make us pay are a sign of weakness.

LANDIS: So I would expect their performance would be slightly off.

The big things to watch are what the banks say about their exposure to Europe's problem and bad mortgages here at home. As Halloween approaches, consumers will be watching whether banks are hiding any more skeletons in their closets.

In New York, I'm Heidi Moore for Marketplace.

About the author

Heidi N. Moore is The Guardian's U.S. finance and economics editor. She was formerly the New York bureau chief and Wall Street correspondent for Marketplace.

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