Here's some good news on the banking front: Wells Fargo ( WFC) expects a profit of $3 billion for the first quarter. In fact, the expected earnings per share of 55 cents is more than double analysts average estimates of 23 cents, according to Thomson Reuters. No wonder Wells Fargo rushed out the preliminary numbers ahead of their April 22 official earnings report. We're talking about net profit here -- the real deal. This is outrageous in a good way. Now we'll have to see if Citigroup ( C), Bank of America ( BAC) and JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) can make good on their earlier indications that they, too, were profitable in the first months of this year. Of course, those banks don't define what they mean by "profitable" exactly. Citigoup CEO Vikram Pandit conveniently left out charges and other annoying costs, and teased the market with vague comments about the bank having the best quarter since the third quarter of 2007, when Citi last posted a net profit. Note that he didn't say Citigroup is having a better quarter than it did back in 2007. So this can't be interpreted as promise about net income for the quarter. Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis commented on profit before provisions -- also leaving out all the nasty stuff that will no doubt destroy the bank's bottom line. Lewis also has cautioned that trading results were weak in March. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said his bank made money in January and February but that March was tougher. No word on net income, either.
While even an operating profit from these banks will be welcome news, it's net income that really matters. Don't be fooled by talk of "continuing operations" or "one-time items" -- that's all smoke and mirrors. Such talk is cheap. That kind of optimistic mumbo jumbo is outrageous in a bad way. Either the bottom line is positive or it's not. When Bank of America, JPMorgan and Citigroup have cleared out all the junk getting in the way of net income, then we can celebrate. In the meantime, only Wells Fargo is talking about a real net profit. So hurray for Wells!