It has almost become a mundane truth in the direct aftermath of a crisis: If Main Street is doing well, Wall Street is doing even better.

This time around is no different, as illustrated by second-quarter earnings from JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Inc. Banking was the clear bright spot, with JPMorgan posting a record quarter for dealmaking and Goldman reporting a 36% increase in revenue in its investment-banking group.

In contrast, while both banks expect loan growth to accelerate eventually, it hasn’t shown significant signs of doing so yet. JPMorgan’s total loans, including commercial and consumer, were flat from a year ago, with Chief Financial Officer Jeremy Barnum hoping that Americans would burn through their cash quickly enough to start borrowing more as soon as the end of this year. In the meantime, however, deposits at the bank, the biggest in the U.S., rose 23%.

This is a reason the knee-jerk stock response was more positive for Goldman than for JPMorgan, building on a trend seen throughout the year. Goldman’s shares are up 43% year to date compared with a 23% gain for JPMorgan. Goldman derives a bigger proportion of its profits directly from banking activities.

The lack of consumer lending growth isn’t exactly a negative sign for the American economy. But it points to how slow it can be to turn around a $20 trillion tanker of an economy and how much easier it can be for big companies to capitalize on this speculative moment than individuals.

Like consumers, companies are also flush with cash, with more than $2 trillion on their books. Stripping out financials, real estate and utilities from the S&P 500, companies have more than $1 trillion, or 8.2% of assets, compared with the five-year average of 7.4%, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analysts led by Gina Martin Adams.

But unlike consumers, they have more opportunities to deploy it in bulk, with high expectations for mergers and acquisitions, share buybacks and dividends and capital expenditures.

Consumers, on the other hand, are more constrained in how quickly they can (and want to) run down their savings accounts, especially as they face supply constraints left over from pandemic-related disruptions.

There aren’t enough houses to keep up with demand, for example, leading to some of the biggest price increases on record and a slowing pace of sales. There are some similar trends when it comes to smaller-ticket items.

U.S. retail sales fell more than expected in May — and are expected to have fallen in June as well when that data comes out on Friday — as Americans bought fewer goods and shifted their focus to experiences such as travel and eating out, areas that in many places still aren’t fully staffed. Consumer prices rose at the fastest pace since 2008 in June as demand outstripped supplies of cars, airplane tickets and, in some places, hotel rooms.

Banks generally stand to benefit in a recovering economy, but not all of them benefit equally. Right now the emphasis is on banking activities, the heart of the financial industry. Companies have the cash and the opportunity to look past the pandemic, toward future businesses and innovations, while consumers are still navigating a pandemic-riddled world.

The fact that Goldman’s shares are beating JPMorgan’s both today and so far this year highlights how it’s easier for traders to bet on Wall Street than Main Street in these earlier, more foggy stages of a recovery.

Lisa Abramowicz is a co-host of ‘Bloomberg Surveillance’ on Bloomberg TV.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.