Why Investors Will Watch Citi, Goldman and AmEx Earnings So Closely

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The financial industry has satisfied investors so far with fourth-quarter results. Three big players will try to keep the momentum going when they report on Thursday: Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C), Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS) and American Express Co.(NYSE: AXP).

Analysts see Citigroup reporting $0.96 a share for the quarter, up 39.1% from a year ago, even as revenue slips 2.6% to $18.2 billion. The banking giant has worked to trim operating costs, with a goal of reducing expenses by $1.1 billion by the end of this year, laying off 11,000 workers in the process.

A concern is whether the company’s consumer lending business, worth half of its revenue, will show a rebound. Business was off 12% through the first three quarters of 2012. Citigroup reports before the open. Shares are up more 5% to open 2014, after a 31.7% gain in 2013.

On the other hand, Citigroup’s recovery from its near-failure during the 2008 financial crisis has been strong enough that many analysts are predicting a boost in its dividend, now a penny a share. In April, the banking giant authorized a $1.2 billion share-buyback.

Goldman Sachs, which also reports before the open, is expected to be a laggard. The consensus estimate is for $4.21 a share in earnings, down nearly 25% from $5.60 a year ago. Revenue is expected to fall 16.5% to $7.7 billion.

Goldman has suffered from lower trading revenues in its fixed-income and commodity businesses. There is concern about whether that business will rebound in 2014 as the Volcker Rule, which limits proprietary trading, and other regulations kick in.

Shares are up slightly in 2014, after rising nearly 39% in 2014.

When American Express reports after the close, analysts expect $1.25 a share in earnings, up 14.7% from a year ago. Analysts see revenue of $8.5 billion, up 4.3% from a year ago.

American Express’ credit card business, targeted at affluent consumers, has been a consistent performer. The cards represent almost 60% of revenue. In the third quarter, the average transaction with its cards was $150, up 8% from a year ago, and the company is believed to have enjoyed a strong holiday shopping season.

Nonetheless, the shares are down almost 4% this month. In 2013, they jumped 58%.