Bank earnings: Five things we'll learn from next week's reports

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Big financial institutions begin reporting first-quarter results next week. JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Bank of America (BAC) and Citigroup (C), the three largest banks by total assets, and Goldman Sachs (GS), the biggest remaining Wall Street firm, are kicking things off.

If the market's surge after Wells Fargo said that it expects to post record profit this quarter is any indication, investors are eager to hear some good news from the embattled financial sector. What exactly will they be listening for?

Here are a few things to keep an ear open for:

1. Believable hype? Thursday's announcement from Wells Fargo (WFC) will likely lead investors to raise their expectations a bit for the entire industry. Statements last month from Citi CEO Vikram Pandit and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon that their banks were profitable in January and February may add to the sense of optimism.

2. Shedding TARP. With Goldman Sachs reportedly planning to sell shares as part of a plan to pay off the $10 billion capital injection it received under the Treasury Department's Troubled Asset Relief Program, investors will likely be watching closely to see if other companies follow suit.

3. Stressing out. The Federal Reserve is reportedly telling banks not to reveal the results of the so-called "stress tests" during their earnings announcements or conference calls with analysts and investors that typically follow. That may lead to a lot of tea-leaf reading as the market tries to fill in the blanks.

4. Magic marking? The Financial Accounting Standards Board's recent revision to the rules governing how banks value to toxic assets like mortgage backed securities and collateralized debt obligations may boost some financial firms' profits this quarter. But investors surely will pay very close attention to results that seem powered by nothing more than bookkeeping sleight-of-hand.

5. Actual, you know, results and stuff. With all the write downs we've seen over the past year-and-a-half, it can be easy to forget that, paper losses aside, most banks bring in a lot of cash. Investors will want to know whether banks are seeing higher loan delinquencies, trouble in their credit card businesses or a drop in fee income from providing merger-and-acquisition advice and underwriting stock and bond issues.
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