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Banks' profits don't equal revenue

A partial view of the Citigroup Tower at the Lu Jia Zui Finance and Trade Area in Shanghai

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Kai Ryssdal:Don't look now, but the bank that used to be the very definition of financial crisis just posted its third straight quarter of profits. Citigroup booked $2.2 billion July through September. JPMorgan announced pretty much the same thing Friday.

But Marketplace's Alisa Roth reminds us it's not like either bank is bringing in tons of revenue.


Alisa Roth: One of the big reasons both Citigroup and JPMorgan are doing better is regular customers are doing better. Or more to the point, they're doing less badly than they were. When lots of customers start defaulting on loans, banks have to put aside money to deal with all the delinquencies.

Gerard Cassidy follows banks at RBC Capital Markets.

Gerard Cassidy: Now that the delinquencies are declining, the money that has to be set aside for future losses is also declining because in the future there will be fewer losses.

In Citi's case, losses from consumer debt gone bad dropped by hundreds of millions. And Citi took $2 billion back from money it'd put aside to deal with those losses.

Cassidy says these are signs the banks are on the right track.

Cassidy: At this point in the cycle, the earnings recovery for the banking industry will be driven by credit recovery, which is what we're seeing today.

But Citigroup and JPMorgan aren't representative of all banks. Sean Ryan is an analyst at Morgan Joseph, which is an investment banking firm. He says credit cards account for a lot of the improvement in consumer debt, and Citi and JPMorgan have disproportionate shares of that business.

Sean Ryan: Industry-wide, while you will see some improvement in credit, because so much has been concentrated in cards, it's not going to be a lot of banks that are going to see a huge benefit.

There's another issue too though. Big and small banks need to start making money again. Not just losing less of it. To do that, they need to start lending again.

In New York, I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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