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NEW YORK: Citigroup Inc on Thursday reported a 48% jump in third-quarter profit that comfortably beat market estimates, as the bank released loan loss reserves and reaped a windfall of fees from equity underwriting and investment banking advice.

The reserve release and boost from M&A offset declines at its consumer bank as cash-flush customers paid down loans, resulting in lower interest income for the bank. Customers have been using money saved when stuck at home during the pandemic to pay down balances to reduce interest payments or avoid late fees. This has hurt lending income of lenders with large consumer businesses.

However, there were some positive signs for the bank. Cards purchase sales rose 20% as consumer spending picked up during the quarter. Executives at other large U.S. banks have also indicated that consumers have started to show signs of taking on more debt, while their cash balances are diminishing.

"While strong consumer balance sheets have impacted lending, we are seeing higher consumer spending across our cards products," said Chief Executive Officer Jane Fraser.

For the three months ended Sept. 30, net income jumped 48% to $4.6 billion, or $2.15 per share, from $3.1 billion, or $1.36 per share, a year earlier. Analysts on average had expected a profit of $1.65 per share, according to Refinitiv IBES data. Citi's shares were up nearly 1.5% following the results.

The bank took down $1.16 billion of loss reserves built during the pandemic for potentially sour loans that have not materialized. A year earlier Citigroup had added $436 million to its reserves. JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo have also released funds set aside during the pandemic.

Investment banking revenue at Citigroup increased 39% to $1.9 billion, helping offset a 16% decline in fixed-income revenue from a year earlier when there was unprecedented volatility in the markets. Higher expenses and lower net interest revenue also weighed on the results.

Net interest revenue declined 1% from a year earlier, but was 2% more than in the second quarter, suggesting an end to the downward trend that started when the pandemic began and the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to near zero and many borrowers paid down their loan balances.

Lower interest rates also hurt Citigroup's Treasury and Trade Solutions business, which saw revenue decline 4% even as it collected more fees and saw growth in trading. Revenue from Citi-branded cards in North America declined 1% and revenue from cards issued for retailers fell 6%.

The results included the impact of a loss on the previously announced sale of its Australia consumer banking business. Excluding the loss on the sale, revenue increased 3%, driven by the institutional business. Operating expenses increased 5% to $11.5 billion as the company ramped up spending on technology and personnel to improve its control systems to comply with demands made by regulators a year ago.

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