Bank of America Corp.'s wide-ranging efficiency plan will save the company $8 billion a year, it said Wednesday, offering new details on the cost-cutting effort that helped the lender swing to a profit in the second quarter.
The Charlotte bank said it expects to save $3.billion a year by mid-2015 under the second phase of Project New BAC, which will include cutbacks in commercial banking, investment banking and wealth management, among other units. That's on top of the projected $5 billion in annual savings announced previously as part of the efficiency initiative's first phase.
Chief executive Brian Moynihan's focus on streamlining operations has helped drive the bank back to profitability after a tough few years in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The Änation?s second-largest lender by assets said Wednesday it earned $2.1 billion applicable to common shareholders, or 19 cents per share, in the second quarter, beating analysts? estimates of 14 cents per share.
It was a dramatic turnaround from the same period last year, when the bank posted a $9.1 billion loss the worst quarterly performance in its history amid continued fallout from its ill-fated purchase of struggling mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp.
Yet hurdles remain, in the form of continued economic uncertainty, unsteady markets and tighter government regulations. And in another sign that housing-related woes continue, the bank said requests to buy back soured mortgages surged more than 40 percent to $22.7 billion in the second quarter.
Some analysts said they're still wondering when the bank's progress will translate into stronger growth.
The fact that they are going to have to cut an additional amount of expenses makes it clear that they haven't quite turned the corner yet, said Gary Townsend of Hill-Townsend Capital, a Maryland firm that invests in banks. It's substantial progress overall, but it's a very difficult environment. Clearly they're not where they need to be.
Bank of America's revenue fell to $22.2 billion in the second quarter, down slightly from the first quarter, though it was up from the same period in 2011. That reflected declines in most of its business units from earlier this year.
Continued economic troubles and low interest rates also hampered profits, executives said during a conference call with analysts.
Analysts abuzz with questions
Many of the analysts' questions centered on the rise in requests from investors for the bank to buy back bad mortgages. Brennan Hawken, an analyst at UBS, noted that the bank's claims were more than six times higher than any of its peers, but that the bank had only set aside about twice as much money.
All we can really say at this point, quite frankly, is that the reserving is based on our view of what the agreements are, responded Bruce Thompson, Bank of America's chief financial officer.
Analysts also raised questions about the bank's potential liability in the Libor rate-rigging scandal. British bank Barclays recently agreed to pay $450 million to settle charges that it tried to manipulate the benchmark rate, which helps determine the costs of corporate and consumer borrowing. Other major banks are under investigation.
Thompson said Bank of America has received inquiries from U.S. and foreign regulators and is cooperating. Otherwise, there's not a lot more we can say on that, he said.
Still behind other big banks
Despite a solid performance in the second quarter, Bank of America's profits still lag some big-bank peers. San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co., which bought Charlotte's Wachovia in 2008, last week reported a record profit of $4.4 billion for common shareholders, or 82 cents per share. New York rival JPMorgan Chase & Co., on the hot seat recently for its multibillion-dollar trading losses, turned a profit of $1.21 per share.
Bank of America shares closed at $7.53 Wednesday, down about 5 percent from the previous day's close.
Moynihan said uncertainty remains. But he emphasized that the bank has rebuilt its balance sheet and implemented a customer-focused strategy to position itself for growth in the quarters to come.
Let's remember this: As we reduce our costs, we continue to invest in the opportunities in our franchise, he told analysts. You'll see us drive forward and continue to deliver the results that our clients and customers expect.
Long-term debt declined, credit quality improved and deposits increased in the second quarter, the bank said. Like other big banks, it saw a rise in mortgage banking income amid the wave of refinancings.
The wealth management and corporate and commercial banking businesses performed well. And the bank continued to build capital at a faster rate than its peers ahead of new international standards, increasing its Tier 1 common capital ratio to 11.2 percent from 8.2 percent a year ago.
The cost-cutting initiative Project New BAC will help boost profits in the years to come, executives said, because of the efficiencies it creates.
Those changes are already occurring. The bank is in the midst of cutting 30,000 jobs under the effort's first phase, a move announced last September, and more jobs are being eliminated as part of the second phase. This month, for instance, Bank of America cut jobs in its commercial banking unit, sources familiar with the situation told the Observer.
It's unclear how many total jobs will be eliminated, or how the cuts might affect workers in Charlotte, where the bank employs about 15,000.
The bank's total headcount is down by 20,000 workers from last year, excluding those hired to work through its mortgage issues, a decline of 8 percent, executives said. Staff Writer Andrew Dunn contributed.