Though securities underwritings and other market-related activities have picked up in the last three months, money-center banks are still feeling the effects of last fall's turmoil, analysts said.
Wall Street earnings estimates for banks with big capital markets operations are down from last year's first quarter, when ebullient market activities lifted bank profits into record territory.
Meanwhile, the nation's large regional banks, buoyed by fee income and strong loan growth, are expected to show broad gains compared to last year, analysts said.
The expectations continue to highlight the polarized nature of the banking industry, with capital market-sensitive money-centers on one end and retail and corporate lending-oriented regionals on the other.
"The best-run regionals can still do better than the money-centers," said Sean Ryan, an analyst at Bear, Stearns & Co. "The further up on the corporate food chain you get, the more you have to compete in capital markets."
Among the money-centers, earnings per share at Citigroup are expected to decline 4% from its results in the same period last year, according to consensus estimates tracked by First Call Corp.
Earnings at J.P. Morgan & Co. are expected to decline 5%; at BankAmerica Corp. 7%; and at Bankers Trust Corp. 46%, according to First Call. Bankers Trust has been scaling back its trading activities in emerging markets after posting steep losses in the third quarter.
The recovery "hasn't fully run its course," Mr. Ryan said.
In this group, only Chase Manhattan Corp. is expected to show a gain over last year, of 5%, according to First Call. Analysts said the bank is expected to post strong trading revenues and double-digit gains from trust and investment management activities.
Still, some analysts admit that when it comes to the money-centers they may be erring on the side of caution.
The banking companies themselves are beginning to indicate that trading revenues and income from underwriting may be stronger than expected, driving earnings beyond Wall Street's consensus, analysts said. And strong results already posted by investment houses like Lehman Brothers bode well for the money-centers.
"There is no doubt that for many of the banks the expectations came down and are creeping back up," said Carla D'Arista, an analyst at Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co.
Among the regionals, first-quarter reports from large Midwest banks are expected to be strong, fueled by loan growth, said Joseph Duwan, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.
"Loan growth is still solid but maybe not quite as robust as the fourth quarter," he said. "I do think net interest margin pressures are subsiding."
The outook is similar for banks in the South, where commercial lending remains strong and revenues are expected to show double-digit growth, analysts said.
SunTrust Banks Inc. in Atlanta, Wachovia Corp. in Winston-Salem, N.C., Fleet Financial Group in Boston, and Wells Fargo & Co. in San Francisco are all expected to post fee-income growth even while integrating acquisitions made last year, said Katrina Blecher, an analyst at Brown Brothers, Harriman & Co.
Firstar Corp. in Milwaukee and National City Corp. in Cleveland should also begin to show benefits from their respective acquisitions last year. National City acquired First of America Bank Corp. of Kalamazoo, Mich., about a year ago, and Cincinnati's Star Banc Corp. acquired Firstar late last year, keeping the Firstar name.
Michael Mayo, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston, said he believes there is still a "degree of margin pressure" and he will be watching for loan growth and expense control.
"The regionals are less likely to show surprises relative to money- centers," Mr. Mayo said.