JPMorgan profit jumps despite latest mortgage hit

July 14, 2011, 3:11 PM UTC

JPMorgan Chase posted strong second-quarter numbers, driven by robust results at its investment bank.

But CEO Jamie Dimon warned that it will “take some time to resolve” problems in its big mortgage business.

JPMorgan (JPM) made $5.4 billion, or $1.27 a share, for the second quarter. That compares with the year-ago profit of $4.8 billion, or $1.09 a share, and the $1.21-a-share profit expected by Wall Street analysts. 

No end in sight

Revenue rose 7% from a year ago to $27.4 billion. Analysts were expecting revenue of $25 billion.

The latest quarter included a net 7 cents a share worth of charges, as a $1.8 billion pretax benefit from securities gains and the release of credit card loss reserves was offset by $2.3 billion in pretax mortgage-related costs, including litigation reserves. Excluding those items, the latest-quarter profit handily beat estimates.

Dimon cited a top-ranked performance in global investment banking fees and record revenue in commercial banking. He said credit trends continue to improve, allowing the bank to pour $1 billion of credit card loss reserves into earnings.

But Dimon was less upbeat about the mortgage mess that has been a top concern of bank investors for the past year and figures to remain one for the foreseeable future.

“We have already incurred significant costs, charged-off substantial amounts and established significant reserves for mortgage-related issues,” Dimon said. “Unfortunately, it will take some time to resolve these issues and it is possible we will incur additional costs along the way. However, in time, these costs will normalize as well.”

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The numbers come as the biggest banks, after growing rapidly for years and bulking up during the crisis, struggle to adjust to reduced prospects. Their trading and capital raising businesses have slowed after the government-fueled 2009 market rebound, but costs haven’t come in nearly as fast. Per-employee revenue fell 21% at Goldman Sachs (GS) and 14% at JPMorgan’s investment bank last year, but compensation dropped less, falling 13% at Goldman and just 2% at J.P. Morgan.

Wall Street firms are “significantly overstaffed” in slow-growing developed countries, bank analyst Meredith Whitney wrote in a note to clients this week. She expects securities industry employment to drop by as much as 90,000 jobs over the next year.

Meanwhile mortgage-related problems continue to exact a toll on an industry that didn’t cover itself in glory during the housing bubble. Bank of America (BAC) agreed last month to pay $8.5 billion to settle a mortgage putback lawsuit, in its latest effort to put out the various fires dating back to its 2008 acquisition of the subprime mill Countrywide.

JPMorgan was less bad than Countrywide but still faces significant exposure. The firm set aside almost $2 billion in the first quarter to reduce the value of its mortgage servicing business and to defray mortgage cleanup costs, prompting CEO Jamie Dimon to admit that losses in that business “will continue for a while.”

Thursday’s comments come as investors await news of a big settlement between the major mortgage servicing banks and state attorneys general who want to wring billions out of them in compensation for their record-keeping and other foreclosure-related failures. How the banks alert investors to those developments has emerged as an issue for securities watchdogs.

Regulators are keeping an eye on what banks say about their exposure to mortgage related losses, including legal settlements, though a Wall Street Journal report on the subject notes that as usual the Securities and Exchange Commission isn’t actually expected to take any action against the banks.

Even so, dark mortgage clouds have shaded all the banks this year, including JPMorgan, which is down more than 6% even as the firm has started buying back stock with a vengeance. Barclays Capital analyst Jason Goldberg estimated this month that the bank spent $3 billion on repurchases during the second quarter, trimming its share count by 2%.