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The world’s biggest banks are still pouring money into fossil fuels

<i>Mario Tama/Getty Images</i><br/>Banks have pledged to go green
Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Banks have pledged to go green

By Nicole Goodkind, CNN

Banks have pledged to go green, but last year they poured billions of dollars into expanding the capacity of fossil fuel production despite the accelerating climate crisis.

Banks provided $673 billion to finance the fossil fuel industry last year, even as oil and gas companies made $4 trillion in profits, according to the annual Banking on Climate Chaos report, authored by a group of nonprofits including The Rainforest Action Network and the Sierra Club.

While Canadian banks are providing a rising share of the money, US lenders still dominate the market and accounted for 28% of all fossil fuel financing in 2022, said the report.

At the top of that list is JPMorgan Chase, the largest funder of fossil fuels cumulatively since the Paris Agreement on climate change was signed in 2016, according to the report. Citi, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America are also among the top five fossil financiers since 2016, the report found.

“Major US banks stalled on their net-zero plans and failed to adopt stronger and more robust financing restrictions for companies pushing unsustainable fossil fuel expansion,” said Adele Shraiman, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Fossil-Free Finance Campaign, in a statement.

Oil and gas companies have seen skyrocketing growth as the energy crisis triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine sent prices soaring, challenging people’s quality of life and financial stability.

The global oil and gas industry’s profits jumped to $4 trillion in 2022, up from an average of $1.5 trillion in recent years, International Energy Agency chief Fatih Birol said in February.

High prices have swelled profits for energy companies, leaving them flush with cash. And their shareholders are feeling that windfall thanks to huge stock buyback programs.

The record profits come after the world’s 60 largest private banks provided $5.5 trillion in finance for fossil fuels over the past seven years, according to the report.

JPMorgan Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo and Bank of America are all members of the UN’s Net-Zero Banking Alliance, a group of banks committed to achieving carbon neutrality in their operations by 2050.

“By turning their backs on their climate pledges and doubling down on their support for the fossil fuel industry, Wall Street banks are increasing the likelihood of systemic risks to the economy, including a coastal property values collapse, a carbon bubble crash, and insurance market turmoil,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said in a statement.

A spokesperson from the Net Zero Banking Alliance previously told CNN that comprehensive transitional plans “will require years to plan and execute.”

An immediate divestment from existing fossil fuel positions could lead to “extreme market shocks” that could “profoundly impact the world’s most vulnerable people,” the spokesperson added.

“We provide financing across the energy sector: supporting energy security, helping clients accelerate their low carbon transition and increasing clean energy financing with a target of $1 trillion for green initiatives by 2030,” Charlotte Powell, head of sustainability communications at JPMorgan told CNN.

The Banking on Climate Chaos report, which has been published for 14 years, examines the fossil fuel funding of the 60 largest banks in the world. Its authors also include BankTrack, Indigenous Environmental Network, Oil Change International, Reclaim Finance, and Urgewald.

Tesla is a victim of the price war it started

Tesla helped kick off an EV price war, reports my CNN colleague Chris Isidore. Now, those lower prices are hitting the company’s sales and profits.

The automaker earned about 22% less in the first quarter than it did last year and its profits fell even more compared to the third and fourth quarters of 2022. That comes after Tesla cut its prices four times this quarter, and twice this month alone.

Even with record car deliveries, the lower prices caused revenue to fall $1.3 billion compared to the fourth quarter.

Asked about the future direction of its profit margins, Tesla executives declined to give any guidance.

“This is a difficult environment to make a projection like this. There’s a lot of macro uncertainty,” said CFO Zachary Kirkhorn. “There’s also headwinds and tailwinds.”

On a call with investors, CEO Elon Musk defended the price cuts, even if it means lower profit margins in the near term.

“While we reduced prices considerably in early Q1, it’s worth noting that our operating margin remains among the best in the industry,” he said. “We’ve taken a view that pushing for higher volumes and a larger fleet is the right choice here versus a lower volume and higher margins.”

A warning about strong early earnings reports

Investors are expecting an earnings recession this quarter. But so far, the companies reporting have largely beaten estimates. That’s lead to some early optimism about how the first quarter may shake out.

Those investors should put away their party hats, said Bryan Reilly, a portfolio manager at CIBC Private Wealth US, in a note on Wednesday.

“While the first quarter earnings of large cap financials have come in reasonably strong and better than feared, investors should not get a false sense of security from these early reports,” he wrote.

“Weakening in retail sales, industrial production, and services as the first quarter progressed has shown that the Fed rate hikes have begun to bite at economic growth. That slower growth coupled with higher costs remaining sticky for most companies has forced a rethinking of the path of corporate profit margins.”

And even though companies are beating estimates, they’re not beating by as much as they usually do.

S&P 500 companies are surpassing earnings-per-share estimates by 7.9% in aggregate, according to recent FactSet data. That’s below the 5-year average of 8.4%.

As of FactSet’s most recent report, the overall earnings decline for S&P 500 companies this quarter is expected to be around 6.5%. That would mark the largest earnings decline since 2020.

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