BofA loses $5.2B in 4Q as it repays bailout

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Jan 20, 2010 10:30 am

Man, Ken would have been stomped with the pay czar's gestapo boot had he still been at the helm.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Bank of America Corp. said Wednesday it lost $5.2 billion during the final three months of 2009 as consumers struggled to make mortgage and credit card payments and the bank repaid its government bailout money.

Bank of America said its loss, which reflected the payment of preferred dividends, compared with a loss of $2.4 billion a year earlier. The bank, which was one of the hardest hit by the credit crisis and recession, said its results were boosted by strong results from its Merrill Lynch investment banking operations that it acquired a year ago .

The report fell in line with those of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc., both of which had billions in losses from bad loans offset by investment banking income. The industry's results are a concern for economists and investors, who question whether the economy can have a sustained strong recovery if consumers are still defaulting on loans.

CEO Brian Moynihan echoed those concerns in a statement, saying, "economic conditions remain fragile and we expect high unemployment levels to continue, creating an ongoing drag on consumer spending and growth."

Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America lost 60 cents per share during the fourth quarter, more than the 52 cents analysts were expecting, according to Thomson Reuters. But investors appeared unfazed; the bank's stock was up 11 cents at $16.43 in pre-opening trading.

The bank set aside $10.1 billion to cover soured loans, down nearly 14 percent from the previous quarter.

Like Citigroup, Bank of America said it saw some signs of improvement in its loan portfolios. The company said it charged off $8.4 billion in loans during the quarter, down $1.2 billion from the third quarter. Loans are charged off when they are considered uncollectible.

But credit costs remained high, with the bank's credit card unit posting a $1.03 billion loss, well above a $9 million loss a year ago.

The addition of Merrill Lynch supported the bank's results. But Bank of America said its global wealth and investment management unit saw its net income rise to $1.3 billion in the quarter, up from $515 million a year earlier, driven by the addition of Merrill Lynch.

Bank of America said $4 billion of its fourth-quarter loss came from the costs of paying back $45 billion in government bailout money in December.

JPMorgan Chase, which last Friday reported a $3.28 billion fourth-quarter profit, also said its investment banking earnings offset losses from loans. Many analysts predict loan losses should peak some time in the first half of 2010.

On Tuesday, Citigroup said it lost $7.58 billion in the fourth quarter as consumers continued to struggle to repay loans and the bank repaid its government bailout. The bank said it set aside $8.18 billion to cover bad loans during the most recent quarter.

Moynihan, who became CEO on Jan. 1, has said Bank of America's decision to pay back the government loans was a major step in bringing back employee and shareholder confidence. It also freed the bank from restrictions on how much it could pay employees.

Bank of America's has about 53 million customers, including individual consumers and businesses. That breadth makes BofA particularly vulnerable to high unemployment, which currently sits at 10 percent.

Moynihan, 50, became CEO after Ken Lewis retired.

For the full year, Bank of America lost $2.2 billion, or 29 cents per share. It earned $2.56 billion, or 54 cents per share in 2008.

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