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Bank of America losses grow to $5.2 billion

chart_bank_earnings_2.top.gifFourth-quarter results have been mixed for the nation's biggest banks.By David Ellis, staff writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Losses at Bank of America widened to $5.2 billion in the fourth quarter, as its results were squeezed by the company's decision to return bailout money owed to the government.

Even as consumer loan troubles again ate away at profits, much of the decline was prompted by its repayment of $45 billion the company received through TARP, or the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Not including the one-time charge, the nation's biggest bank would have finished the quarter with a loss of just $194 million, far smaller than the $1.8 billion loss it reported during the same period just a year ago.

Since announcing plans to refund taxpayers in December, Wall Street had been girding itself for some ugly numbers from the Charlotte, N.C.-based lender. But the company failed to live up to the lowered expectations. On a per-share basis, the company lost 60 cents, more than the 52 cents per share loss that analysts were forecasting, according to Thomson Reuters.

The latest numbers from Bank of America were also worse when compared to a year ago. The bank lost 48 cents a share in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Despite the bad news, shares of Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) were up 1% in mid-afternoon trading Wednesday.

Brian Moynihan, the bank's newly-installed CEO, acknowledged that the company's latest results were "disappointing." Moynihan assumed control of the company on Jan. 1 following the departure of Ken Lewis, who agreed to step down following a wave of criticism from shareholders about the bank's controversial purchase of investment bank Merrill Lynch at the height of the financial crisis, earlier this year.

Still, Moynihan said he was encouraged by some trends the company experienced during the last three months of 2009, namely stabilizing credit trends within some of its consumer-related businesses.

Losses in Bank of America's homebuilder loan portfolio, for example, declined from the third quarter. Overall net charge-offs, or debts the company believes it will never be able to collect, also fell, while the company set aside less money for bad loans during the quarter.

"Credit trends were encouraging to us and we expect to see a modest revenue rebound in some of [Bank of America's] various businesses," David George, senior bank analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co. wrote in a note to clients Wednesday.

There were even signs that the Merrill acquisition was already paying off. BofA's securities, investment banking and wealth management divisions all enjoyed an increase in revenues during the final three months of 2009, compared to the same period a year ago.

But there were also indications that some of Bank of America's biggest problems, namely its exposure to the American consumer, were not completely behind them.

The company's credit card business, which has struggled with the nation's unemployment rate hovering at 10% and a rise in consumer bankruptcies, suffered a $1 billion loss during the quarter.

The company's home loan business, which grew significantly as a result of its purchase of mortgage lender Countrywide two years ago, also reported a loss of nearly $1 billion in the same period.

With the state of the U.S. economy still "fragile," Moynihan warned that consumer spending and growth would remain under pressure.

"Although we believe we saw the peak in the third quarter, net loss levels will remain elevated for the next several quarters," he said during the conference call with analysts.

Bank of America's results come amid a flurry of bank earnings Wednesday.

Among those was West Coast banking giant Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500), which delivered a surprise fourth-quarter profit Wednesday. US Bancorp (USB, Fortune 500) also ended the quarter in the black with results that were narrowly better than expectations.

Wall Street firm Morgan Stanley (MS, Fortune 500) also swung to a profit, although its results fell short of consensus estimates.

Those numbers come just a day after rival Citigroup (C, Fortune 500) reported a $7.6 billion loss. JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500) posted a better-than expected profit last Friday, but investors were concerned by cautious comments from CEO Jamie Dimon.

Rival Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500) is one of the last major financial firms to report its fourth-quarter results. The company is slated to release its fourth-quarter numbers before Thursday's opening bell. To top of page

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