The banking industry is poised to save $30 billion this year, thanks to tax cuts

Something for bankers to celebrate.
Something for bankers to celebrate.
Image: Reuters/Darrin Zammit Lupi
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It’s been one year since US president Donald Trump was inaugurated and, so far, bankers have a lot to be happy about: Thanks to recent US tax cuts, the industry will pay $30 billion less in taxes each year, according to estimates by Wells Fargo analysts led by Mike Mayo.

JPMorgan, the biggest US bank by assets, expects its effective tax rate to decline to 19% this year from 32% in 2017. Many small lenders are also in line to get a boost in profits through more preferable tax treatment. Mayo said in a research note that the tax changes “are a big permanent step-up in returns,” and, for the biggest banks, about two-thirds of the money saved will end up as profit.

There could be more good news on the way—the Trump administration is also rolling back a number of bank regulations. Measures from banker bonuses to rules controlling banks’ trading desks, as well as how much capital they must hold, are being reconsidered. Many of these restrictions are loathed by the industry; Goldman Sachs, one of Wall Street’s brightest stars, is still adapting its business model to the new environment.

Some changes could amount to a necessary and helpful re-calibration, but a heavy re-write would be worrisome. When it comes to the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, the sweeping set of rules that were designed to prevent another financial crisis, Trump said this week that his administration is “doing a real number on it,” according to The Hill.

Of course, bank executives like JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon won’t be the only ones who benefit (although with nearly $30 million in compensation last year, he has a lot to be smiling about already). More than 75 financial firms have said they’re increasing pay or other compensation for employees because of the tax cuts, according to Americans for Tax Reform, a low-tax advocacy group. Looser lending restrictions could help businesses borrow the money they need to grow.

Much of the increase in bank profits should flow through to investors such as mutual funds and pensions in the form of dividends and stock buybacks. That windfall is likely to be recycled into the stock market, boosting equity prices and potentially spurring investment more broadly, according to Karl Smith, director of economic research at the Niskanen Center.

How much the US economy will benefit in the longer term from lower taxes remains to be seen. Stock markets are soaring, yet finding ways to pay for increased budget deficits threatens to dampen growth. For now, the banking industry, which was much maligned in Washington after the last financial crisis, has a lot to be grateful for.