News Summary: Bank earnings begin, with overhang

News Summary: Analysts expect higher bank earnings, but legal expenses are a wild card

Associated Press

BY THE NUMBERS: The big banks are set to begin reporting their fourth-quarter earnings, starting with Wells Fargo on Friday. For most, analysts are predicting higher earnings.

A CLOSER LOOK: That doesn't necessarily mean that banks are making big gains in revenue or lending. Profits are expected to be driven by cost cutting, which means the banks are slashing jobs, and because they're releasing some of the reserves they'd stored up for loans that might go bad.

THE LEGAL OVERHANG: The banks are also facing lawsuits from shareholders and the government over risky mortgage lending and other practices. The most recent reminder was Monday's national settlement over foreclosure abuse. Analysts say that the banks' future legal costs are unpredictable.

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