JPMorgan revenue spikes as COVID-19 relief soothes economic pain

Trading revenue surged 20% to $5.9 billion

JPMorgan Chase, the nation's largest lender, posted higher profit than Wall Street expected as trading income spiked amid volatility from the U.S. presidential election and its mortgage business expanded.

Profit of $3.07 a share, excluding the release of funds previously set aside to cover loan losses, topped the $2.62 average of estimates from analysts surveyed by Refinitiv. Total revenue climbed 3 percent to $30.2 billion, outpacing estimates of $28.7 billion.

Congressional action on a second coronavirus-relief package and the development of vaccines to treat the deadly disease enabled the lender to free $2.9 billion in loan reserves, though it still retains a sizeable $30 billion, reflecting "significant near-term economic uncertainty," CEO Jamie Dimon said in a statement.

That "will allow us to withstand an economic environment far worse than the current base forecasts by most economists," he said.

Revenue in JPMorgan's trading business climbed 20 percent to $5.9 billion amid fights over the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in November and Britain's exit from the European Union, with gains of 15 percent on the bond desk and 32 percent in stocks.

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How further relief measures under the administration of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden will affect U.S. banks remains to be seen.

The former vice president and Delaware senator, set to be inaugurated in less than a week, detailed a $1.9 trillion spending proposal on Thursday evening, one he said is vital to helping Americans weather a pandemic that has stretched over nearly a year, shredding the U.S. economy as it infected 23 million Americans and killed hundreds of thousands.

"Some 400,000 small businesses have permanently closed their doors," Biden said Thursday in Wilmington, Delaware. "It's not hard to see that we're in the middle of a once-in-several-generations economic crisis with a once-in-several-generations health crisis. A crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight, and there's no time to waste."

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JPMJPMORGAN CHASE & CO.147.17-4.01-2.65%

Dimon told reporters on Friday morning that government relief combined with the availability of vaccines may lead to a "healthy economy" by summer, with the possibility of travel and leisure activities benefiting from "pent-up demand."

During the three months through December, "consumer spending continued to recover, as reflected in combined debit and credit card spend being up," he noted.

In the bank's consumer lending business, its largest, auto and retail mortgage originations both rose more than 20%, the bank said, helping push profit up 3 percent to $4.3 billion.

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"The  morgate market was obviously extraordinary in 2020, and we expect it will still be quite extraordinary in 2021," Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Piepszak told reporters. "Though lower than 2020, it certainly feels like it should still be a very healthy market."

Sales of existing homes reached a seasonally adjusted 6.69 million in November, the most recent month for which figures are available, according to the National Association of Realtors. That's a 28.5 percent gain from the same period last year. The median price rose 15 percent to $310,800.