NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Fifth Third Bancorp ( FITB) of Cincinnati was the winner on Thursday among the nation's largest banks, with shares rising over 1% to close at $16.86. The broad indexes ended higher, with the S&P 500 ( SPX.X) index pushing further into record territory, after the weekly unemployment claims numbers from the Department of Labor showed a reversal from the previous week's increase. The Labor Department said that first-time unemployment claims declined by 42,000 to 346,000 for the week ended April 6, which more than reversed the previous week's jump to an upwardly revised 388,000. Economists polled by Thomson Reuters were expecting jobless claims for the week ended April 6 to come in at 365,000. The KBW Bank Index ( I:BKX) was down slightly to close at 56.84, with 12 of the 24 index components showing declines for the session. First-quarter earnings season for the big banks starts on Friday, with JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) and Wells Fargo ( WFC) scheduled to report before the market opens. "We project EPS contraction of 2% q/q on average but growth of 16% y/y for our coverage," UBS analyst Greg Ketron said in an industry preview report on Tuesday. With all signs pointing to slower mortgage origination volume and lower gains on sale this year, the analyst wrote that "net revenue weakness may lead to stock declines, and we view this as an attractive opportunity to add to positions in our Buy-rated names." Among the large banks covered by his firm, Ketron has "buy" ratings on U.S. Bancorp ( USB) of Minneapolis, BB&T ( BBT) of Winston-Salem, N.C.., and SunTrust ( STI) of Atlanta.
The consensus among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters is for JPMorgan Chase to report first-quarter EPS of $1.39 a share, matching the results in the fourth quarter and increasing from $1.19 in the first quarter of 2012. When discussing areas of focus for JPMorgan's earnings report, KBW analyst Frederick Cannon said in a note to clients late on Tuesday that "while much attention is paid to trading, investment banking, and net interest income, the company's asset management business quietly chugs along as the second-largest component of total revenues (15% in 2012)."