When U.S. financial giant JPMorgan Chase reports record revenues and its share values drops, it's a sign of a jittery mood on Wall Street.
It's hard to turn around without bumping into a new report the economy is recovering, but many of those signs appear weak or weakening. Improvements in home prices have stalled; a surge in home sales has run into a slippery spot and is not expected to regain traction until the spring. The employment picture looked sharply improved in November and not-so-improved in December. Manufacturing is looking to join the recovery late in the game. Construction: Few signs of improvement there so far.
And people are mad banks are doing well.
President Barack Obama has proposed a bank fee that targets the nation's largest financial firms that received Troubled Asset Relief Program funding. The idea is twofold: First Obama is mandated by law to recover the entire $700 billion TARP budget, a stipulation of the hastily assembled 2008 bill. Second, these banks make a ton of money and have yet to figure out how to balance that point by convincing the public there's a sense of shared responsibility for the nation they serve.
From an image point of view, the prolonged recession could not have been worse for banks, which are seen as seizing on their customers mistakes with arbitrary fees for overdrawn accounts or late payments. For higher risk loans, they charge more, because the numbers dictate that to be fair -- but it comes across as a "kick 'em when they are down" mentality. And when the recession hit, they appeared to stick their heads in the sand, restricting loans when the economy required cash to flow.
Some would argue, the economy did not need as much cash to flow, anyway -- it was over extended and the banks' reaction to pull back was some of the harsh medicine the economy needed. But banks missed that public relations moment, too.
They perform a valuable service or two, but still appear to have done nothing right for some time. The recession has revealed them to be casinos more than banks. But they are casinos that sequester the gambling to the lucky few while the public foots the bill for losses.
Their adversarial relationship with Washington is not likely to improve their image. Obama is required to recoup the $700 billion in TARP funding, but banks are fighting the fee Obama has proposed to recover $90 billion in a 10-year period.
Last week, Obama asked banks to skip the standard lobbying response to the proposed fee and "consider simply meeting your responsibilities." But he was whistling in the wind.
The Securities Industry and Financial Market Association, a lobbying group, said last week they hired constitutional attorney Carter Phillips, The New York Times reported Monday, and look to be bracing for a fight over the fee partly on the grounds large banks that have already repaid the government TARP funding are being unfairly asked to pay again.
In international markets Monday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan lost 1.16 percent, while the Shanghai composite index rose 0.4 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong fell 0.9 percent, while the Sensex in India rose 0.49 percent.
The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia rose modestly, up 0.23 percent.
In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 in Britain rose 0.59 percent, while the DAX 30 in Germany rose 0.47 percent. The CAC 40 in France rose 0.58 percent, while the pan-European DJ Stoxx 50 rose 0.64 percent.