Wall Street is the one place in America where money does grow on trees. Image credit: iStock/Thinkstock.

Last year was a good one for the CEOs of the nation's biggest banks. The leaders of JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), and Citigroup (NYSE:C) received double-digit raises in 2015 compared to the prior year. And while Wells Fargo has yet to report its compensation figures, it's safe to assume that its CEO, John Stumpf, will be similarly rewarded.



2015 Compensation

2014 Compensation

Increase (Decrease)

Jamie Dimon

JPMorgan Chase

$27 million

$20 million


Lloyd Blankfein

Goldman Sachs

$23 million

$24 million


James Gorman

Morgan Stanley

$21 million

$22.5 million


Michael Corbat


$16.5 million

$13 million


Brian Moynihan

Bank of America

$16 million

$13 million


Data sources: JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, and The Wall Street Journal.

One can argue about the amount of money that these CEOs make, but there's little question that Dimon, Corbat, and Moynihan deserved to make more in 2015 than they did in 2014, given the performances of their banks.

JPMorgan Chase turned in another year of solid profitability, earning $24.4 billion in 2015 compared to $21.7 billion the prior year. This translated into a full year return on average assets of 0.99% versus a year-ago 0.89%. JPMorgan Chase also raised its dividend last year by 10%, and boosted its Tier 1 common capital ratio from 10.2% all the way up to 11.8%.

Citigroup's improvement was even more dramatic. Its net income more than doubled last year, going from $7.3 billion in 2014 up to $17.2 billion. That boosted its return on assets from 0.39% up to 0.95%. Over the course of 2015, moreover, Citigroup's Tier 1 common capital ratio increased from 10.6% up to 12%.

And Bank of America rounded out the group with the largest year-over-year bottom-line improvement. Its earnings went from $4.8 billion in 2014 to $15.9 billion last year. That's a more than threefold increase. On top of this, Bank of America's outstanding legal liabilities fell dramatically and its debt rating improved, the latter of which should lower its cost of funds. The net result was that Bank of America turned in one of its best annual performances in nearly a decade, though its return on average assets still came in at only 0.74%.

Data source: Bank of America

Aside from each of these banks' improved performances last year, the common theme that emerged was the impact that low interest rates continue to have on their bottom lines. That's reflected in the fact that all of them, JPMorgan Chase included, failed to earn at least 1% on their assets, which is a common industry benchmark for high-performing banks.

This will change as time goes on -- interest rates will either increase, or banks will adjust their business models accordingly -- but it's one of the reasons that bank stocks still seem cheap, with shares of Bank of America and Citigroup, in particular, trading for substantial discounts to their book values. When you factor in the trajectory of these banks' earnings, in turn, you would be excused for thinking that there's an opportunity for patient investors to profit from the failure of their share prices to keep up.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.