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Financials' Santa Rally Turning Into Cliff Collapse (Update 2)

Tickers in this article: BAC C I:BKX JPM WFC

The AMT law is not indexed for inflation. Each year, Congress passes a "patch" in order to address this problem. The patch hasn't yet been passed, and time is short, because the Internal Revenue System needs to know the AMT rules for 2012, in order to do correctly process tax returns and tax refunds, beginning in January.

Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller sent a letter to Congress in November and another letter on Wednesday , saying that "the most recent AMT Patch, and the exemption amounts of $74,450 for joint filers and $48,450 for single taxpayers, expired at the end of 2011," and that without a new patch for 2012, "the current-law AMT exemption amounts are much lower: $45,000 for joint filers and $33,750 for single taxpayers."

"This means that 30 million additional taxpayers will become subject to the AMT on their 2012 income tax returns."

Miracles do happen. Our friends in Washington may get their act together and pass the 2012 AMT patch, but if they do not, Miller said that "most taxpayers may not be able to file their 2012 tax returns until late March, or even later." When factoring in the software changes required with no AMT patch and the calculations taxpayers will need to make in order to find out whether or not the AMT will apply to them, Miller said "it is becoming apparent that an even larger number of taxpayers - 80 to 100 million of the 150 million total returns expected to be filed - may be unable to file."

So not only will $30 million taxpayers face higher taxes for 2012, up to 100 million taxpayers could see a significant delay to their tax refunds. That would be sure to have a dire effect on the economy during the first quarter.

Euphoria and Volatility

Bank of America's shares have now returned 104% year-to-date, following a 58% decline during 2011. Mounting evidence of a sustained recovery in U.S. housing prices, along with the overall economic recovery, have propelled the shares, although they were still down 15% from the end of 2010.

The shares have been quite volatile this year, quickly rising to a closing price of $9.81 on March 20, then sliding to a close at $6.83 on May 21, before continuing a rocky climb to Thursday's closing high of $11.52, so Bank of America could be especially susceptible to the Fiscal Cliff and the possible AMT-driven delays of tax refunds next year.

Bank of America's shares were till discounted at Friday's close, trading for 0.8 times their reported Sept. 30 tangible book value of $13.48, however, the shares appeared relatively expensive in the current environment for large-cap bank stocks, at 11.8 times the consensus 2013 EPS estimate of 96 cents, among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. The consensus 2014 EPS estimate is $1.25.