The fourth-quarter earnings outlook for big banks remains fairly upbeat, even as reports about trading losses at some banks and brokerages continue to mount.
Goldman, Sachs & Co. on Monday became the latest firm to attribute a sluggish fourth-quarter performance to losses at its proprietary trading desk. The news followed reports about expected fourth-quarter losses in the bond portfolio at Salomon Smith Barney, a unit of Citigroup, and in J.P. Morgan & Co.'s proprietary businesses, including trading.
Still, the outlook for most banks with large trading desks is favorable, analysts said. That's because many banks have curtailed their proprietary trading-where they bet their own portfolios against the market-in the last five years, said bank analyst Robert Albertson of Goldman Sachs.
"The odds are not that high that banks' fourth-quarter earnings will be worse that analysts' expectations," Mr. Albertson said.
According to First Call Corp. of Boston, Citigroup is expected to earn 56 cents a share, Chase Manhattan Corp. $1.07, Bankers Trust Corp. 88 cents, and BankAmerica Corp. 94 cents.
Expectations for J.P. Morgan & Co. were lowered to 37 cents a share, from $1.03, after it announced a $100 million pretax restructuring charge last week.
Big banks have focused more on venture capital and equity investing in recent years, rather than on proprietary trading. Those areas have also suffered, but not to the point where they will have a material impact on fourth-quarter earnings, Mr. Albertson said.
Analysts also point out that Goldman's fourth-quarter results reflected the firm's trading losses in September-a period most banks accounted for in their third-quarter earnings reports.
Another positive for banks in the fourth quarter: the surging stock market and rebounding foreign economies. Both of these areas have improved markedly since the third quarter.
The fourth-quarter earnings outlook for most brokerage firms is also sound, market experts said. In fact, after Goldman made its announcement, most brokerage stocks rallied on Tuesday. Gainers of the day included Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co.; Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette; and Merrill Lynch & Co.
"Weak results for the most part are behind the brokerage firms," said brokerage analyst Guy Moszkowski of Salomon Smith Barney.
Trading losses for most brokerages were at their worst during August and September, Mr. Moszkowski said.
The only company whose fourth-quarter earnings are likely to be especially poor is Lehman Brothers Inc. That is because its fourth-quarter includes September, which was one of the worst trading months this year. Lehman also focuses on bond trading, including mortgage-backed securities, which suffered significantly in September, Mr. Moszkowski said.
Other uncertainties remain. Bank and brokerage analyst Raphael Soifer of Brown Brothers Harriman said fourth-quarter earnings could show some poor results.
"We know it is not going to be a great quarter, because the bond market did not bottom out until the second week of October," Mr. Soifer said. "There were also a lot of cross-currents in October and November. The fourth quarter is not going to be a wonderful quarter," he said.