CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - Hundreds of demonstrators marched outside Bank of America Corp’s (BAC.N) annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday to voice anger over issues ranging from foreclosures to corporate taxes to financing for the coal industry.
The meeting, held in the bank’s headquarters city of Charlotte, North Carolina, has drawn protesters in the past, but the crowd this year was bigger than any time in recent memory.
By 11 a.m., the crowd was estimated at 700 to 800, Jen Soriano, a spokeswoman for Unity, an alliance of groups participating in the protest.
Demonstrators staged a mock boxing match between two fighters, one said to represent the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans and the other representing the other 99 percent. The group coordinating the protests calls itself “99 Percent Power.”
Bank of America’s shareholders approved the proposed executive pay package. All shareholder proposals failed to pass.
Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, demonstrators have been targeting corporate shareholder meetings this year to keep a spotlight on concerns about economic disparity in the United States. More than 500 demonstrators engulfed Wells Fargo & Co’s (WFC.N) meeting site in April, resulting in 24 arrests.
Charlotte officials have declared the Bank of America meeting an “extraordinary event” under an ordinance passed in January to help handle protests expected in the city during the Democratic National Convention in September.
The ordinance allows the city to ban certain items, ranging from backpacks to crowbars, at large events.
Bank of America spokesman Scott Silvestri declined to comment on the protests.
During the meeting, most of the questions Moynihan faced from shareholders and homeowners focused on the bank’s handling of loan modifications and foreclosures. A number of speakers said they had trouble working with the bank, which had lost documents or not returned telephone calls.
Moynihan told one shareholder the bank was cleaning up after Countrywide Financial, the lender it bought in 2008. That led Michael Garland, corporate governance director for the New York City comptroller’s office, to criticize what he called the CEO’s “pro forma” answer.
While Countrywide may have made the loans, Bank of America is now the servicer of those mortgages.
“These are issues that the board and the management are responsible for,” Garland said.
Moynihan responded that the bank has 50,000 people working on the issue and has modified more than 1 million loans.
“I think we’re doing everything we can,” he said.
The New York comptroller’s office sponsored a shareholder proposal that would have required an audit of the bank’s mortgage operations, but stockholders did not approve the resolution.
In response to another question, Moynihan said the bank has considered bankruptcy for Countrywide and will continue to look at that option. Ally Financial, the former finance unit of General Motors that is now independent of the automaker, is likely to put its mortgage finance arm into bankruptcy soon.
Bank of America has faced intense scrutiny for taking government bailouts during the financial crisis, for mishandling foreclosure paperwork and for attempting to implement a now-canceled monthly $5 debit card fee last fall.
Meanwhile, stockholders are not happy about a stock price below $10 and a quarterly dividend slashed to a penny per share since the financial crisis. Moynihan, who is presiding over his third annual meeting, made progress last year building the bank’s capital levels, but faces questions about the company’s ability to increase future earnings. To boost profits, the bank is focused on cutting costs, including plans to eliminate about 300 jobs in its investment banking and capital markets group.
Executive compensation has become a hot issue during this year’s annual meeting season after Citigroup Inc (C.N) shareholders rejected that company’s pay plan.
Moynihan received total compensation of $8.1 million in 2011, up from $1.9 million in 2010. He received no cash bonus and most of his stock would pay out only if the company attained performance goals. ISS Proxy Advisory Services and Glass Lewis & Co, which advise large shareholders on how to vote at annual meetings, have backed Bank of America’s pay plan.
Reporting By Rick Rothacker in Charlotte, North Carolina; additional reporting by Lee Howard; editing by Steve Orlofsky, Gerald E. McCormick and Andre Grenon