Citigroup profit beats estimates on gains in consumer lending

Citigroup beat analysts’ estimates for their quarterly profits.

NEW YORK: Citigroup beat analysts’ estimates for quarterly profit on Monday, as a tight lid on costs and strength in consumer lending helped the third-largest US bank counter weakness in its trading business.

New York-based Citi is the first major bank to report second-quarter earnings. Wall Street titans JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bank of America Corp and Goldman Sachs Group are scheduled to report later in the week.

Bank stocks have been falling in recent weeks amid concerns that their net interest margins, or the difference between what they pay on deposits and earn on loans, have been squeezed by falling interest rates.

Citi’s interest margin declined slightly to 2.67% from 2.70% a year earlier and 2.72% in the first quarter of 2019.

Citi shares were down 2.3% in early trading. Other banks were also trading lower.

Citi continued to add loans and deposits in the most recent quarter, allaying concerns that a weaker economic outlook was hurting consumers’ ability to borrow.

Total loans at the third-largest US bank by assets rose 3% to US$689 billion, while deposits increased 5% to US$1.05 trillion, excluding foreign exchange fluctuations.

Trading revenue remained challenged. Fixed-income trading fell 4%, excluding a gain from Citi’s investment in Tradeweb, while it declined 9% at its equities business.

Executives at leading US banks had warned that trading revenue would be hit by a slump in client activity due to burgeoning trade tensions and uncertainties around Britain’s planned exit from the European Union.

“We navigated an uncertain environment successfully by executing our strategy, and by showing disciplined expense, credit and risk management,” Chief Executive Officer Michael Corbat said in a statement.

A key was that the bank was able to make more money from its lending activities during the quarter. Net interest income rose 2%.

Net income rose to US$4.80 billion, or US$1.95 per share, in the second quarter, from US$4.50 billion, or US$1.63 per share, a year earlier. The quarter included a one-time gain of 12 cents per share related to the investment in electronic trading company TradeWeb.

Revenue rose 2% to US$18.76 billion, while expenses fell 2%.

Analysts had expected a profit of US$1.80 per share and revenue of US$18.50 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

One of the broadest measures of performance improved dramatically as Citi posted a return on tangible common equity of 11.9%. up more than a percentage point from a year earlier.

Banks have been under pressure to cut costs as a weaker economic outlook raised concerns about revenue growth. Chief Financial Officer Mark Mason said earlier this year the bank has already accelerated some cost-cutting plans to cope with potential headwinds.

Citi’s per-share earnings have been propped up by a lower outstanding share count due to large stock buyback programs, but investors have been pressuring the bank to prove that it can grow profit organically. Share count declined 10% in the second quarter from a year earlier.

Last month, Citi announced plans to return US$21.5 billion to shareholders through a 6-cent dividend hike and a US$17.1 billion stock repurchase program.

US banks largely increased the amount of capital they plan to return to shareholders over the next year but Goldman Sachs analyst Richard Ramsden warned that this year might represent “peak returns” for many in the group.