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JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon tells Yahoo Finance what he's seeing in the economy

Sam Ro
Managing Editor

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase (JPM), is bullish on the US economy.

In an interview with Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief Andy Serwer, Dimon identified a slew of ways the US economy has roared back since the great recession. He noted that employment was up, the housing market was recovering, and wages were starting to rise.

"The economy is going strong," he said.

Importantly, the American consumer isn't drowning in debt.

"The balance sheet of the American consumer is pretty good," Dimon said. He added that the ratio of income to the cost of servicing debt was at a 30-year low.

One of the big tailwinds that consumers have benefited from has been the plunge in gasoline prices. Dimon estimated that consumers were spending around 80% of those savings on things like travel and entertainment.

Dimon believes that better "rational policy" could bolster consumer confidence, igniting more spending and investment by consumers and businesses. Unfortunately, when asked about which presidential candidate he supported, he clammed up: "I'm not involved in politics at all."

The economy is strong enough to justify more rate hikes

In December, the Federal Reserve hiked its benchmark interest rate by 0.25%, the first such rate hike since 2006. That event was followed my weeks of volatility in the global financial markets.

When asked if the Fed had made a mistake, Dimon dismissed the implication.

"25 basis points doesn't means almost nothing to anyone," he said. "I'm hoping you see another rate raise or two because the economy is going strong."

Dimon reiterated that these inital rate hikes are about ending the post-crisis, 7-year long era of ultra-low rates and easy monetary policy.

"Normalizing is a very good thing," he said.

Dimon would rather have more clients than a fatter profit margin

Low interest rates put pressure on bank profit margins. One of the most important measures of bank profitability is the net interest margin, or NIM, which is roughly the difference between the interest banks collect less the interest they pay out for holding deposits.

When asked about the challenging low interest environment, Dimon noted that you don't necessarily need higher rates and a fat NIM for profits to grow.

"I'd rather have real growth in the number of clients than more spread," he said of the current environment.

For Dimon, it's about playing the long game. By having more clients now, profits will growth much faster when those interest rates begin to rise in the bank's favor.

"Eventually, [spread] will come back," he said.

JPMorgan beats on earnings

“We are one of the most trusted financial institutions in the world, delivering consistently for our clients, communities and shareholders,” Dimon said in remarks accompanying the bank’s quarterly earnings announcement earlier on Wednesday.

JPMorgan’s net income exceeded analysts’ dismal expectations, falling just 7% year-over-year to $5.52 billion or $1.35 per share. Analysts were expecting closer to $1.24 per share.

Wall Street has been slammed by volatile financial market conditions, which caused investment banking activity to dry up and trading revenue to tumble.

“We expect the group to post the worst first-quarter trading revenues since the financial crisis,” said KBW banking analyst Frederick Cannon.

However, it's worth noting that Wall Street has come a long way since the crisis. Back then, crashing asset values and frozen credit markets put tremendous pressure on the industry, sending storied names like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns to the history books.

Today, capital levels at the big banks have returned so much that banks like JPMorgan are able to return cash to shareholders in the form of stock buybacks and cash dividends.

"We plan to increase capital return in the first half of 2016 as the board approved an incremental $1.9 billion in share buybacks," Dimon said. "As we build for the future, we are continuously innovating and investing to succeed. We are strengthening the Firm to withstand any environment and to maintain scale and profitability through the cycle."

JPM shares gained 4% on Wednesday.