3 Questions Bank of America Needs to Answer
2. What about consumer loan growth?
Bank of America has, understandably, backed off from residential mortgage lending in a big way, further emphasizing what a terrible decision it was to purchase Countrywide, despite acquiring an industry leading mortgage origination platform.
While the company has reduced its balance sheet in order to shore up capital, investors will be looking for Bank of America to participate in the economic recover. During the first quarter, Bank of America's non-real estate commercial loans grew slightly from the previous quarter, to $193.7 million. The company saw declines in all other loan categories.
On Monday, the Federal Reserve reported that U.S. consumer borrowing rose at an annual rate of 7.75% during the first quarter, with non-revolving credit increasing at a rate of 11.5%. In March, consumer borrowing increased at an accelerated pace of 10.25%, with student loans and automobile loans accounting for the bulk of new borrowing.
During the first quarter, Bank of America's U.S. credit card balances declined 6% from the fourth quarter, to $96.4 billion. Meanwhile, indirect automobile loans made through dealers declined 7% to 40.2 billion and student loans declined 5% to $5.7 billion.
Moynihan needs to give investors hope that Bank of America will participate in the economic recovery.
3. How will you retain Merrill Lynch's top talent?
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that as part of Project BAC -- the company's massive cost-cutting program -- Bank of America was planning to lay off 2,000 senior staff in its investment banking, commercial banking and non-U.S. wealth management units.
With weak underwriting business in the U.S. and the company's need to right-size expense structure, the moves may well be justified, but an important concern for investors is morale at Merrill Lynch, which many consider to be BAC's crown jewel.
Moynihan needs to address investor concerns over the stability of Merrill's talent ranks. It would also help for the CEO to discuss where he sees opportunities for increased investment banking activity in the U.S., and how Merrill plans to participate.
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-- Written by Philip van Doorn in Jupiter, Fla.