Falling interest rates were a major third-quarter headwind for U.S. banks, cutting into the revenue they earn on loans and pushing chief executives to dig even deeper for cost savings to keep profit targets on track.

But don’t look to the companies’ trading operations to rescue earnings when the biggest firms begin reporting results Tuesday. Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp. are among firms that have been lowering expectations on that front. Ditto for investment-banking fees, which are suffering from a drop in mergers.

All those clouds have contributed to sliding revenue estimates. The six biggest U.S. banks are expected to post a slight drop in total revenue this quarter, just the second decline in the last three years. At the start of 2019, analysts expected those banks to add $15 billion to their 2018 haul of annual revenue. Now the jump is seen at only $2 billion.

Interest rates are “still going to be a level of uncertainty,” Betsy Graseck, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, said on Bloomberg Television Monday. “That’s going to be a question for everybody on the call: ‘What’s 2020 going to look like?’”

There are bright spots. For one, the U.S. consumer is standing tall, with the economy and credit quality both showing strength. Plus, shareholders will be splitting profits among a smaller group. Large banks’ share counts probably fell 2% from June, the biggest single-quarter drop in more than a decade, according to Jason Goldberg, an analyst at Barclays Plc. That comes as banks start to unleash the record $173 billion in buybacks and dividends that the Federal Reserve approved in June.

Here’s a closer look at what to watch when JPMorgan Chase & Co. kicks off earnings on Tuesday, followed later in the day by Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Citigroup:

Cost Cutting

Bank executives have a lot riding on their ability to trim so-called efficiency ratios, which measure how much it costs to produce a dollar of revenue. Citigroup is trying to cut its ratio by almost 2 percentage points this year after disappointing investors on that front in 2018. Bank of America has touted 18 straight quarters of progress on the gauge, while Wells Fargo is seeking to reach its previous CEO’s target before its new boss sets his own agenda.

Efficiency ratios are likely to be unchanged from last year’s third quarter, according to Susan Katzke, an analyst at Credit Suisse Group AG.

Wells Fargo analyst Mike Mayo said cutting expenses linked to employees will be key, as is “using technology like it’s never been used before.”

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