What's Next for Bank Stocks

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As the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) shot up nearly half a percentage point on Tuesday, we received more bad news for the Dow and its remaining bank to report earnings.

Bank of America (NYS: BAC) shareholders won't hear its quarterly results until Thursday, but if Citigroup (NYS: C) 's announcement today was any indication -- and it is -- things may get ugly.

Citigroup reported an 11% decline in earnings to $0.38 per share, well below analyst expectations. It was a tough quarter for investment banking, as investors fearful of the European financial crisis fled to the sidelines. Last week, JPMorgan Chase (NYS: JPM) announced that its net income had fallen 23% in the fourth quarter as investment-banking earnings fell in half.

The good news for banks is that loan growth -- a major area of concern for me these days in the industry -- was actually pretty decent. Citi's loans grew 14%, JPMorgan Chase's rose by 4%, and Wells Fargo (NYS: WFC) , which also reported today, saw its book increase by 2%.

Wells Fargo's earnings were up 20% for the quarter. As Wells is more focused on commercial banking than the other big banks are, it didn't have to contend with poor investment-banking results.

Bank of America, however, has a substantial investment-banking and global business and shares much more in common with Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase than it does Wells. Worse still, it's been justifiably shedding assets this year to free up capital, so it may not have the loan growth that buffeted its peers in the fourth quarter.

We'll find out how BofA did on Thursday. The quarter could be even uglier for Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, which depend even more on trading and investment-banking results than the other four too big-to-fails do. Morgan Stanley will report alongside Bank of America, while Goldman will report Wednesday before the market opens.

With trouble simmering in Europe and mortgage liabilities at home, I'm pretty skeptical of many analyst forecasts that 2012 will be the year the big banks' earnings make their comeback. If you're interested a fast-growing retailer that our chief investment officer picked to crush the market in 2012, check out our brand new report, "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2012." It highlights a company that is revolutionizing commerce in Latin America. For a limited time, you can get instant access to the name of this company for free

At the time this article was published Ilan Moscovitzdoesn't own shares of any company mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo and has created a covered strangle position on Wells Fargo.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Goldman Sachs. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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