He did it again.
Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Brian Moynihan is not a charismatic speaker, yet he has a knack for stick-in-your-head quotes.
"We can be both big and good," he said Tuesday in pledging to lead a focused cross-seller that swears off acquisitions.
The comment will undoubtedly be prophetic one way or the other. The company in Moynihan's second year at the helm could become nimbler and more profitable. Or, the quote will mark a failed effort to be all things to all people and prove as regrettable as his description of angry mortgage-pool purchasers as Chevy Vega owners who want a Mercedes out of the deal.
Investors responded favorably, sending the company's stock up 4.7%, to $14.69, but some longtime observers were left wanting.
There's "nothing new here — just consensus predictions, which might quiet down the big bears" in the short run, said Paul Miller, who covers B of A for FBR Capital Markets. Miller stressed that the plan unveiled Tuesday was broad and long-term.
During the Charlotte, N.C., company's first investor day conference in four years, Moynihan sought to usher in a "new era" for B of A. He said that the nation's largest bank by assets would move away from a culture of growth by acquisition to one dedicated to organic growth.
He emphasized that the company is focused on managing its balance sheet and reacquainting itself with current customers.
Moynihan also forecast normalized earnings of as much as $40 billion a year and promised to return significant capital to shareholders.
Speaking before about 300 investors and analysts at the opulent Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, Moynihan and his management team laid out their strategy for returning to profitability, which includes finishing the cleanup of legacy assets and expanding the business globally.
B of A will drive earnings in a number of ways, Moynihan said. But it will focus on cross-selling opportunities — particularly in the mass-affluent market — and bringing legacy costs down.
"Our company has significant earnings power as we emerge from the crisis," the CEO said.
Ultimately, Moynihan sees pre-provision normalized revenue of $45 billion to $50 billion and pretax income of $35 billion to $40 billion. That assumes about a 5% loss rate in its credit card business, he said. For 2010 the bank swung to a $2.2 billion loss from a $6.3 billion profit in 2009. Revenue fell 8%, to $110.2 billion.
Moynihan also expects a dividend payout of up to 30% of earnings. The company has asked regulators for permission to raise its dividend as early as the second half of this year.
"A company has three choices of what to do with capital: use it to fund organic growth, give capital back to shareholders or it can use it for acquisitions," Moynihan said. "What we did wrong precrisis, we did all three things. … I can tell you we will not do that. … We need capital to fund organic growth. And we need to return capital to you. We don't need to buy anything."
Moynihan acknowledged this was a promise his predecessor Ken Lewis made the last time B of A held an investor conference, but failed to keep.
"Four years ago we had a lot of you in Florida and we talked about organic growth … and then we went out and did acquisitions," Moynihan said. "I can guarantee you that is not going to happen."
Executives spent much of the conference reassuring investors that the company's legacy assets, particularly the troubled mortgage operations it inherited through its purchase of Countrywide Financial Corp. in 2008, are under control.
The bank recently created a division led by former OneWest Bank head Terry Laughlin to deal with the legacy mortgage servicing operations. The division is working through about $1 trillion of outstanding mortgage loans.
The continuing threat of requests for the company to buy back soured mortgages, and related litigation, has kept shareholders and analysts on edge. Late last year, B of A agreed to pay $3 billion to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to settle the majority of outstanding repurchase requests.
However, there is lingering concern over the potential for significant private investor put-backs.
B of A has said at most it will take $7 billion to $10 billion to settle additional mortgage litigation, but the bank is not setting aside reserves at this point to cover such a hit because it considers the likelihood of having to pay those claims as improbable.
"It's a very long road," Laughlin said, referring to the challenges private-label investors face in bringing claims against B of A. "We feel very strongly that these are not valid claims."
Then there is the outstanding issue of how much the bank will have to pay regulators to settle the matter of sloppy foreclosure processing, and what sort of new servicing rules it may have to adhere to, including a possible mandate for principal reductions.
"There are lots of ideas on the table," Laughlin said. "Principal reduction is not a panacea here. The fundamental issue here is if the borrower does not have sufficient income or their income has been diminished principal reduction is not going to help them."
Like other big banks, Bank of America is also trying to position its business to deal with the expected blow from such restrictions as the Durbin amendment, the art of the Dodd-Frank Act that caps the interchange fees banks earn on debit card transactions. B of A has said it expects to lose about $2 billion in revenue annually from that rule alone.
As such, B of A is keenly focused on increasing cross-selling opportunities, particularly among its mass affluent consumers. Within the Merrill Lynch business, for example, where two out of three clients have outside bank accounts, the company has the opportunity to capture $300 billion of deposits and $600 billion of loans, officials said.
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