October 18, 2011 / 11:16 AM / 6 years ago

Bank of America struggles, but asset sales help

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) posted a third-quarter profit, boosted by accounting gains, but its main businesses struggled as income from lending and investment banking fell.

CEO Brian Moynihan, under pressure to turn around the bank, has been selling assets to boost capital. Those efforts resulted in the bank ceding its ranking as the largest U.S. bank by assets to JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N). But they could also cut into future revenue.

Competitors seem to be taking business from Bank of America, which is groaning under the weight of bad mortgages it acquired when it bought Countrywide in 2008. The bank’s loan book shrank in the third quarter, even as competitors like JPMorgan made more loans.

Adding to its difficulties, the Federal Reserve’s efforts to lower long-term interest rates is weighing on lending margins for banks.

“Their interest income is under pressure and they’re going to have trouble growing loans. These are not very good results,” said Bill Hassiepen, senior analyst at credit rating agency Egan-Jones Ratings Co.

Citing the difficult outlook for lending, Bank of America has said it plans to slash 30,000 jobs over the next few years.

Still, the bank’s shares surged, mainly because investors had been bracing for the worst and received few surprises.

“The bar is just so low for them right now, anybody could jump over it,” said Paul Miller, analyst at FBR Capital Markets.

“All they had to do was show up, and they did.”

Bank of America shares closed up more than 10 percent at $6.64 but are still down 50 percent for the year.

HARD TO GET CUSTOMERS BACK

Amid the difficult environment, the bank has embarked on a companywide efficiency plan that will eliminate 30,000 jobs over the next several years in consumer, technology and other areas.

In the next phase, which began this month, the bank will look to reduce expenses in capital markets, commercial banking and wealth management operations.

Total employment edged up to 288,739 on September 30 from 288,084 three months earlier, but about 2,000 employees have been told they will be let go. The bank said in August it was eliminating 3,500 jobs ahead of the efficiency program.

Quarterly net income for shareholders was $5.89 billion, or 56 cents per share, compared with a loss of $7.65 billion, or 77 cents per share, a year earlier when the bank took a $10.4 billion accounting charge.

Revenue rose 6 percent to $28.7 billion.

Customers use ATM machines inside of a Bank of America branch in Times Square in New York March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Much of that revenue increase came from $9.8 billion of pretax benefits from two accounting gains and from selling shares of China Construction Bank Corp (601939.SS).

The bank also took a pretax loss of $2.2 billion for private equity and strategic investments. Excluding one-time items, profit was 25 cents per share, according to Barclays Capital analyst Jason Goldberg, or 6 cents more per share than analysts had forecast on average, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Net interest income fell to $10.74 billion from $12.72 billion a year earlier, while net interest margin, or what the bank earns in loan interest versus what it pays for deposits, shrank to 2.32 percent from 2.72 percent.

Other major banks such as JPMorgan and Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N) also posted shrinking margins. Quarterly profit rose at Wells Fargo and at Citigroup Inc (C.N) but fell at JPMorgan.

Bank of America’s noninterest expense, excluding a goodwill writedown a year earlier, rose 4.7 percent to $17.6 billion.

The bank, which is headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, has faced a backlash over its plan to charge customers $5 per month to use debit cards, which could boost future fee income but has also led to customer defections. In a conference call with analysts, Moynihan said many customers who do significant business with the bank won’t have to pay the charge.

    “The fees are to get people to bring more of their relationships,” he said.

    Jon Finger, a Houston-based Bank of America investor, said the bank has done a poor job of explaining the fee to customers.

    “I‘m concerned about the impact this may have on the customer base,” Finger said. “Once they leave the bank, it’s hard to get them back.”

    MORTGAGES, INVESTMENT BANKING WEIGH

    The overhang from Bank of America’s mortgage exposure persisted: the mortgage unit lost $1.1 billion in the third quarter, nearly triple the $392 million loss a year ago.

    Analysts believe the bank’s $2.5 billion purchase of Countrywide Financial Corp in 2008 has cost more than $30 billion because of writedowns and lawsuits.

    The unit recorded $500 million of pretax litigation expenses in the quarter. And despite a boom in home refinancings, the bank originated just $33 billion of home loans, down from $40.4 billion in the preceding quarter and $71.9 billion a year earlier.

    The bank said that government-backed mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were requesting the bank buy back loans made before 2007, something it views as “inconsistent with our interpretation of our contractual obligations,” according to the bank’s earnings presentation.

    As global dealmaking dried up, the bank’s global banking and markets unit lost $302 million, compared with profit of $1.56 billion in the preceding quarter and $1.47 billion a year earlier. Revenue from investment banking and trading fell 36 percent and 22 percent, respectively, from the second quarter.

    That unit comprises much of Merrill Lynch & Co’s former operations that Bank of America agreed to buy at the height of the 2008 global financial crisis. It had been a key source of profit as other businesses hemorrhaged money.

    Bank of America’s total loans fell to $932.53 billion from $941.26 billion in the second quarter. Rivals Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase reported slight loan growth in the quarter.

    Reporting by Rick Rothacker and Joe Rauch in Charlotte, North Carolina; Additional reporting by Edward Krudy and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by John Wallace, Ted Kerr and Bernard Orr

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