Analysis: US bank trading and deposits in focus after rollercoaster month

New York, March 27 (Reuters) - As U.S. banks prepare to close the books on a tumultuous quarter, analysts say trading revenue and deposits are among the key numbers to watch when lenders report earnings in mid-April.

After two high-profile bank closures this month shook confidence in the industry, observers are focused on whether firms will become more conservative by reining in lending or suspending stock buybacks. JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM.N), the biggest U.S. lender, will report its first-quarter results on April 14, followed by rival Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) on April 18.

The financial industry is still reeling from this month's dramatic events, which rattled investors and whipsawed markets.

Regulators shuttered Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and Signature Bank, the second and third largest closures in the nation's history. Authorities then took unprecedented action to backstop the collapsed companies' deposits and introduced new measures to shore up confidence. Eleven lenders later threw a $30 billion lifeline to First Republic Bank (FRC.N). And UBS Group AG (UBSG.S) bought rival Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN.S) in a hastily-arranged deal under pressure from the Swiss government.

The ups and downs may have helped banks' trading desks as choppy markets fueled client activity.

"Trading profitability will be one of the key items to watch for after the huge volatility in the market," Stephen Biggar, an analyst at Argus Research in New York, told Reuters. It "can either turn out to be lucrative or unprofitable for some banks depending on the key positions that they have taken," he said.

The effect on broader earnings could yet be "limited," because much of the turmoil occurred in the final month of the quarter, Oppenheimer analysts led by Chris Kotowski wrote in a report on Thursday.

Major banks will also have to account for unrealized losses in their longer-term securities portfolios to consider the possibility that the U.S. Federal Reserve will keep interest rates higher for longer, the Oppenheimer analysts wrote. The portfolios will be scrutinized after SVB unraveled in part because of a $1.8 billion loss it took on its bond holdings.

A group of 25 banks, including some of the largest in the U.S., had held-to-maturity securities portfolios that equated to 29% of their tangible common equity, Oppenheimer estimated. The larger banks can avoid selling the securities at a loss because they have enough liquidity, or cash on hand, to meet demand from depositors.

Meanwhile, investment banking divisions will probably suffer as topsy-turvy markets discouraged companies from issuing bonds or stocks. Oppenheimer forecast total investment banking revenue will sink 40% in the first quarter from a year earlier for the six largest U.S. banks: JPMorgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N), Citigroup Inc (C.N), Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N) and Morgan Stanley (MS.N).

$1 TRILLION SHIFT

The "most vulnerable" U.S. banks are likely to have lost a total of about $1 trillion in deposits since last year, with half of the outflows occurring in March following the collapse of SVB, JPMorgan analysts estimated in a March 22 note.

While billions of dollars of those deposits landed at the biggest banks, some analysts said the influx was unlikely to provide a major boost to their earnings. That is because companies and wealthy clients have moved their money out of deposit accounts and into bonds or Treasuries, where they earn a greater return.

The uncertain outlook will probably prompt banks to suspend share buybacks to conserve cash, analysts added. And lenders will probably set aside more rainy-day funds to cover potential losses from soured loans, said Biggar at Argus.

Investors are becoming increasingly focused on the rising cost of funding for banks, which could weigh on earnings, analysts at Piper Sandler wrote in a note last week.

"Recent bank failures have resulted in a remarkable ongoing reevaluation process of banks' deposit bases and overall liquidity profiles that will likely have ripple effects for many years to come," they wrote.

Reporting by Nupur Anand and Tatiana Bautzer in New York; Editing by Lananh Nguyen and Diane Craft

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