The economic uncertainty that roiled the stock market at the end of 2018 hurt Citigroup’s trading business, the bank said on Monday, as a busy week of quarterly earnings reports by the country’s largest banks got off to a shaky start.
Citi said it had almost a half-billion dollars less in revenue in the year’s fourth quarter than analysts had expected. The cause of the drop, the bank said, was an unexpectedly sharp decline in revenue from trading in government bonds, foreign currencies and other fixed income products as falling stock prices spooked investors.
Investors have fretted for the past several months over the Federal Reserve’s next moves and President Trump’s unpredictable trade tariff announcements. Those concerns are not likely to dissipate, and Citi’s chief executive, Michael Corbat, said they could eventually be more of a drag on the economy than actual policy changes.
“Right now, we see the biggest risk in the global economy as one of talking ourselves into a recession,” Mr. Corbat said in a conference call with analysts.
Still, Citi warned that monetary and trade policies could affect its performance in the future.
The bank’s chief financial officer, John Gerspach, said in a call with reporters that continuing uncertainty about how various countries’ central banks will carry out plans to drain excess cash from the global financial system and about the Trump administration’s protracted trade war with China risked hurting the American economy in the second half of this year or early in 2020.
Citi recorded $17.1 billion in revenue for the quarter, compared with the $17.6 billion expected by analysts. The deficit did not indicate major problems for the bank, but it showed that, however vague, investors’ worries about the future can have a measurable impact on a big corporation’s results.
Furious activity in the financial markets can sometimes help companies that are close to Wall Street by generating more business for them, but Citi’s clients opted to hold tight as stocks began to drop in September, Mr. Gerspach said. “Clients — investors and corporate clients — waited on the sidelines,” he said.
Citi customers, Mr. Gerspach said, did not ask the bank to make many trades on their behalf because they were “waiting for clearer market conditions” that never came.
“In December, they got worse,” he said.
As a result, Citi’s fixed income trading revenue for the fourth quarter was down 21 percent compared with the same period a year ago and 39 percent below the results for the third quarter of 2018.
The bank’s performance in other areas wa solids. Loans and deposits ticked up again, and Citi said the administration’s corporate tax cuts had been slightly better for its balance sheet than originally estimated. Citi shares were up more than 2.4 percent in trading Monday morning.
Citigroup was the first of the country’s major banks to report fourth-quarter results. JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo will issue their reports on Tuesday, with Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley set to do so on Wednesday.