Shareholders making their way to Charlotte this week for Bank of America’s annual meeting have to be happier than they were last year.
The stock’s up nearly 60 percent from last May. The bank has put a number of pressing lawsuits behind it. And the public anger directed at banks seems more muted than last year, when the Occupy Wall Street movement was still a rallying cry and more than 500 protesters blocked uptown Charlotte streets in front of the bank’s shareholder meeting.
But the picture won’t be all pretty inside the Charlotte Marriott City Center Wednesday. Despite last year’s surge, Bank of America’s stock has lagged its peers in 2013. The bank also missed its earnings projections in the first quarter. And it just can’t shake trouble in mortgages on all sides.
Here are five things investors are asking:
1: CAN THE BANK INCREASE ITS EARNINGS?
To state the obvious: Continually increasing earnings would solve a lot of other problems that Bank of America has.
While peers like Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase have been recording record profits, Bank of America has struggled to show that it can grow its income sustainably. “As the other issues go away, this is what the team has to be focused on,” CEO Brian Moynihan told analysts on a conference call last month.
It’s certainly not an easy time for doing that. Low interest rates make it harder to make money on loans and investments, and capital markets activity remains slow. And the bank is still digging out from a pile of bad mortgages inherited from Countrywide Financial Corp., a process that burns up time and money.
2: WILL LEGAL LIABILITY GO AWAY?
But, as Moynihan said, the bank can only put its focus on growth once its house is in order. The bank has put a lot of legal issues behind it over the past year, a fact the CEO repeatedly stresses.
A $2.4 billion settlement in September put to rest a long-running shareholder lawsuit over the bank’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch. A few months later, a $10 billion deal with Fannie Mae ended the bank’s exposure to loans sold to the government-sponsored mortgage giant.
Just a few weeks ago, the bank disclosed a $500 million agreement that would wipe out liability on billions in mortgage-backed securities.
But investors are still caught up on the exposure that’s left. Most notably, Bank of America is still awaiting court approval of an $8.5 billion settlement with Bank of New York Mellon over private-label mortgage-backed securities. It’s also still battling bond insurer MBIA over claims the bank misrepresented mortgage loans backed by the company.
In addition, the New York attorney general's office is set to announce lawsuits against Bank of America and Wells Fargo, claiming documented violations of the sweeping mortgage settlement between states and five big banks last year, according to an announcement from the office.
3: WHERE’S THE STOCK PRICE GOING?
The legal issues have, in turn, weighed on Bank of America’s stock price.
Despite leading the Dow Jones industrial average last year, Bank of America shares are still trading at a discount to many of the bank’s peers. Its performance in 2013 has lagged the broader financial industry.
Bullish analysts like Dick Bove of Rafferty Capital continue to say it’s a cheap stock. But investors appear to still be a little skittish on the Charlotte bank. Bank of America closed Friday at $12.24, up about 5 percent on the year.
4: WILL NEW REGULATIONS HURT THE BANK?
Even coming on three years after the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the “too big to fail” issue is far from settled. A much-discussed bill from Sens. Sherrod Brown and David Vitter would require the largest U.S. banks to hold capital reserves of as much as 15 percent.
That dwarfs the ratios Bank of America has built up to satisfy international standards being rolled out through the end of the decade. And, of course, a huge chunk of the Dodd-Frank rules have yet to be written. The bank spent nearly $900,000 in the first three months of the year lobbying in Washington, D.C., primarily on financial regulation.
5: HOW MUCH MORE COST CUTTING IS LEFT?
So far, a lot of the bank’s energy has been funneled into cutting its costs.
The bank has eliminated nearly 27,000 positions since it announced its signature efficiency program known as Project New BAC, which included a goal of 30,000 job cuts.
Chief Financial Officer Bruce Thompson estimated that 75 percent of the cost savings it targeted in the first phase of the program will be achieved by year’s end.
Bank of America is also working to wind down its massive division dedicated to servicing troubled mortgages. At the end of March, the bank still had 667,000 loans more than 60 days past due. Executives hope to trim that to 400,000 by the end of the year and bring down staffing with it.
Dunn: 704-358-5235 Twitter: @andrew_dunn
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