TEXT - Fitch comments on Bank of America
Jan 17 - Bank of America (BAC) reported stated fourth quarter 2012 (4Q'12) net income of $732 million; however, a number of items, including debt valuation adjustments (DVA) and other settlements, had an impact on results. Fitch calculated pre-tax profits were $2.1 billion, which is up from a loss of $0.7 billion in the year ago quarter. Operating profitability as measured by adjusted return on assets (ROA) was 0.4%, which Fitch views as satisfactory given a seasonally slow fourth quarter, but still below those of peers. Fitch notes that BAC's level of adjusted operating performance remains below the average of the top U.S. banks that have reported to date. Fitch's calculated figures noted above exclude DVA adjustments and various other gains/charges. Furthermore, Fitch expects BAC's level of operating performance to continue to lag peers over a near-to-intermediate-term time horizon. Fourth-quarter earnings included a number of previously announced charges which affected results that included a settlement with Fannie Mae related to mortgage repurchase obligations as well as the Independent Foreclosure Review agreement, among others. Fitch believes that these settlements do address a portion of the uncertainty regarding legacy liabilities surrounding BAC. While other litigation risks remain, Fitch acknowledges that since BAC is now beginning to move past legacy issues, management should be able to focus more on driving the business, which may help to narrow the earnings gap compared to peers over time. BAC's largest component of earnings, net interest income (NII), increased to $10.3 billion in 4Q'12, up from $9.9 billion in 3Q'12, but down from $10.7 billion in 4Q'11. While BAC, as well as the rest of the industry, continues to absorb declining asset yields, which have compressed the company's net interest yield, BAC has benefited by continuing to reduce deposit costs as well as by taking significant liability management actions to reduce its long-term debt expense. As a result, the company's net interest yield held relatively steady at 2.35% in 4Q'12. These actions, coupled with some loan growth, led to the increase in NII. BAC's loan growth occurred primarily in its global banking segment with commercial and industrial loan growth from its large corporate as well as middle-market segments, in addition to growth in commercial real estate balances. As such, total ending loan balances in global banking grew 6.0% sequentially. In addition, sales and trading revenue in this segment was seasonally down from the sequential quarter, but up from the year ago period. Fitch believes sales and trading revenue will improve yet remain volatile, and over time become a smaller proportion of the company's overall revenue. Fitch believes that BAC's capital level remains much improved, though it did decline modestly from the sequential quarter. Total Tier 1 common capital as of 4Q'12 amounts to $133.4 billion, down from $136.4 billion in 3Q'12 due primarily to dividends and the pre-tax loss from the settlements noted above. BAC's Tier 1 common ratio was 11.06%, which is still much improved from the year ago period, and under Basel III proposals, the Tier 1 common ratio was 9.25% in 4Q'12, up from 8.97% in 3Q'12, which is better than Fitch's expectations. As Fitch had expected, BAC's earnings and improved capital position have allowed it to absorb the charges related to the potential litigation noted above. Additional risks that remain include mortgage repurchase risk from private label securitizations as well as litigation risks related to legacy relationships with monoline insurance companies, notably MBIA. As such, Fitch continues to expect additional charges and litigation risks to be a drag on BAC's earnings, but much less than they had been during the last couple of years.