BofA chased out of top spot

It was more of a mild jab than a sharp blow, but the Charlotte banking scene suffered another insult Wednesday: Bank of America Corp. lost its short-lived title as the country's biggest bank by market value.

Bank of America was worth $142.44billion when the markets closed Wednesday, edged out by JPMorgan Chase & Co.'s $142.65 billion. In late 2007, Bank of America became the biggest U.S. bank by market value when it eclipsed struggling New York rival Citigroup Inc.

To be sure, it's a capricious honor, because it can disappear any time the market is open. Wednesday's change in lineup came after Merrill Lynch & Co. cut its earnings estimate for the Charlotte bank, and as observers continue to worry over the bank's impending purchase of Countrywide Financial Corp.

Speaking to analysts Monday, Bank of America chief executive Ken Lewis defended the Countrywide acquisition, praising the California mortgage lender's operations and business contacts. But, he acknowledged, “They blew it on credit, obviously. … (And) they were not as frugal with expenses as Bank of America is.”

JPMorgan Chase, on the other hand, is the relative darling of the banking industry. Though its earnings are down and its shares fell on Wednesday, its stock price has held steady since the beginning of the year; it's swallowing the failed Bear Stearns Cos., and it's getting buzz as a potential buyer for Charlotte-based Wachovia Corp.

Bank of America's shares closed Wednesday at $31.99, down 2 percent. JPMorgan Chase closed at $41.63, down less than 1 percent.

Both banks declined to comment on the change in market value. JPMorgan Chase also declined to comment on whether it's considering a bid for Wachovia.