JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) boasted a 55% surge in net income in the first quarter, an achievement that seemed even more impressive when compared to the more modest growth rates reported by megabank rivals Citigroup (NYSE:C) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC). Those banks both blamed the challenging consumer banking environment for offsetting otherwise strong results. Does Income Investor recommendation JPMorgan have a secret weapon that helped it overcome the structural forces in its industry?

Not really. The results of JPMorgan's consumer businesses reveal the same tight interest rate spreads and declining credit quality plaguing its peers. Consumer banking, however, represents a smaller element in JPMorgan's overall business mix, so weakness in that area was less dilutive to the strong results generated by some of the bank's other activities.

JPMorgan's investment bank experienced particularly strong results -- a trend also observed at other banks, as deal flow and capital markets enjoyed robust growth industrywide . At JPMorgan, increased debt underwriting and advisory fee income lifted revenues at the investment banking unit by 30%, and raised net income for the group by a dazzling 81%, to $1.5 billion. Investment banking was responsible for nearly one-third of JPMorgan's first-quarter earnings of $4.8 billion, or $1.34 per share.

Private equity investments also made an outsized contribution to JPMorgan's first-quarter results, adding approximately $1.3 billion to the bank's $19.7 billion in total revenue. Net income from the unit, which includes JPMorgan's private equity business, was $631 million, compared to a prior-year loss. Like investment banking, the prominence of private equity in the portfolio of JPMorgan's businesses is unmatched in the business profiles of Citigroup and Bank of America.

In those consumer areas most traditionally associated with banking, JPMorgan suffered setbacks similar to its rivals. For example, declining credit quality in the consumer loan portfolio forced the bank to set aside loan provisions of $292 million, an increase of $207 million that caused the group's net income to slip by $22 million. Moreover, those higher loan provisions were provided in spite of the bank's actions to reduce its exposure to subprime loans. JPMorgan is eager to assure investors that exposure to risky loans is manageable, but credit quality clearly remains an uncertain issue for this industry.

JPMorgan also saw a decline in its credit card business, with the charge-off rate increasing to 3.57% from 2.99%. Net income for the group fell 15% to $765 million.

While JPMorgan's diverse income stream is helping the bank outshine its rivals for the moment, it's important for investors to recognize that many of the bank's ventures represent sources of risk that would not be found to the same degree in the stocks of Citigroup and Bank of America. Investment banking income, which accounts for an especially large piece of the pie at JPMorgan, is generally more variable than retail banking earnings. The inherent riskiness of investment banking is in part reflected in the beta of JPMorgan's stock, which is higher than the betas of Citigroup and Bank of America. Investors should be further cautioned by the 13 times earnings multiple at which JPMorgan's stock now trades -- the highest multiple in the rarefied group of megabanks.

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Fool contributor Michael Leibert welcomes your feedback. He owns shares of Bank of America. The Fool has a disclosure policy.