Bank of America Corp. chief executive Brian Moynihan's heavily anticipated speech Monday fell short of the hype, but it was enough to ease tensions.
Investors and analysts wanted concrete signs that the CEO has a winning plan to move past the bank's deep losses and heavy legal problems involving bad home loans. Moynihan provided more specifics about what many had viewed as frustratingly vague cost-cutting plans — and the bank bookended his speech by announcing that it would lay off 30,000 employees from its retail banking operations over the next few years.
It will slash at least $5 billion of its roughly $27 billion of annual retail and consumer banking expenses by 2014, Moynihan said at a financial services conference in New York. A search will start in October for more savings, in corporate and investment banking, he said.
Bank of America's shares closed up 1% on Monday, at $7.05, but lagged a broader rally in the KBW Bank Index. Though Moynihan offered more meat than his question-and-answer session with a Florida hedge fund manager last month, he did not quite deliver on the game-changing plan for the future investors are yearning for.
"It doesn't change my investment conclusion. I'll give Moynihan credit for being proactive. He's being very aggressive in his defense of the company," said Matt McCormick, vice president and portfolio manager at Bahl & Gaynor Inc. in Cincinnati. "Investors should understand this is like trying to turn a battle ship."
McCormick's firm does not own Bank of America shares because it mostly invests in dividend-paying stocks. He said Bank of America is far from being able to pay a healthy dividend.
"What he is trying to do is become nimbler. That's a change in mind-set and behavior and action," he said. "But I think it is going to take longer than most investors expect [for the cost cuts and other actions] to impact the bottom line."
Monday's announcement was the latest development in Moynihan's campaign to restructure and restore confidence in the largest U.S. bank by assets. He has sold off nearly $40 billion of assets to boot capital since taking over the company late last year, including its Canadian credit cards business and half its stake in a Chinese bank. Last week he reorganized Bank of America's senior leadership, ousting prominent top executives Sallie Krawcheck and Joe Price. Last month Bank of America resorted to taking a $5 billion infusion from legendary investor Warren Buffett, at terms that were widely considered much more favorable to Buffett than to B of A.
J. Dale Harvey, founder and CEO of Poplar Forest Capital LLC in Pasadena, Calif., said it will take more than talking points for Bank of America to move past its deep mortgage troubles, he said. It will take time.
"The thing that has people most concerned are the legacy issues, especially in the mortgage business. That is not something you can answer in the short run" said Harvey, whose firm owns Bank of America shares. "There is nothing he can say in a speech [that will show that] 'Oh, OK, it's fixed.'"
His overall opinion before and after the speech is that "they are moving in the right direction."
"I think he is focused on long-term issues, and focused on the kinds of things that the bank can control," he said. The presentation "puts some details around things. I don't think there was any materially new news."
Moynihan said the assets it sold this quarter should replenish the $20 billion it lost on mortgage chargeoffs last quarter.
"All the businesses we have make money except for mortgages," Moynihan said. "We need to keep working on" the bank's mortgage operations.
Moynihan offered few other specifics on the wide-ranging plan dubbed "Project New BAC" it announced earlier this year to reduce its roughly $70 billion of annual expenses in the face of ongoing mortgage losses and falling revenue.
One attendee asked if its annual expenses could fall to as low as $55 billion, after pending cuts in the corporate and institutional divisions and reductions in legal and merger-related costs.
"I'm not sure I agree 100% with your math, but you are in the right direction," Moynihan said.
The bank's plans for a second round of cost-cutting in corporate banking and markets may not be as deep — or "fruitful on a dollars per square inch" — as the first round in the retail division, he said. That is because it intends to paying traders and asset managers competitively.
"We're not changing the comp plan for the wealth management team," he said.
Another attendee asked he would consider placing Countrywide into bankruptcy.
"We look at all our options. … There a ton of options," Moynihan said. "That's all I'll say."
He declined to say when Bank of America and other big banks will finalize a proposed $20 billion settlement of a state attorneys general investigation mortgage servicing abuses.
"It's complex because there are a lot of people involved," Moynihan said, adding that the settlement should "move us forward" and be "reasonable" for the company and shareholders.
The $5 billion of cuts will span consumer, small business, credit cards and other parts of the retail side of the businesses where expenses ran about $27 billion in the 12 months ended in March. The next phase of cuts will involve three big expense areas: corporate banking and markets, where expenses were $28 billion during that time period; mortgage servicing and unwanted businesses it is selling, where expenses were $7 billion; and $11 billion in other expenses such as litigation settlements, waivers, and merger charges.
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