Bank of America (BAC) quarterly earnings included a massive charge tied to its settlement with the Justice Department, and BAC stock was down 4% as a result. But the bank still beat estimates and — more importantly — put the era of financial-crisis fines against U.S. banks to an end.
After years of coming under scrutiny for souring loans, loan-loss reserves, billion-dollar fines, litigation — pretty much anything but actual deposit-and-loan banking — Bank of America and the rest of the industry will finally once again be judged on operational merits.
Sure, that might create a beware-of-what-you-wish-for scenario for bank earnings, but the longstanding economic malaise can’t last forever. (Can it?)
Besides, it’s not like all big banks stocks have been so bad this year. Indeed, at this point in the year, BAC stock looks like an absolute winner. The S&P 500 is now struggling to hold onto any gains for the year-to-date. BAC stock, for its part, is still up more than 2% on the year. That outperforms JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Citigroup (C) too.
Whether Bank of America can maintain that outperformance now that eyes will be on more prosaic matters like revenue, income and net interest margin largely depends on the strength of the tepid recovery going forward.
As BAC’s latest quarterly results show, as far as the economy and banks have come, they’re nowhere near back to normal.
Bank of America Posts Street-Beating Loss
For the most recent quarter, Bank of America net income plunged to $168 million from $2.5 billion a year ago, hit by legal charges tied to its $16.65 billion settlement over selling dodgy mortgage securities in the run-up to the financial crisis.
Further depressing the bottom line were dividend payments on preferred shares. On that basis, BAC recorded a loss of a penny a share, vs. Wall Street forecasts for a loss of 9 cents a share. That’s a big earnings beat.
More troubling for this new era of bank earnings (the one where we look at current conditions more than past disasters), revenue went nowhere. The top line slipped 1% to $21.4 billion year-over-year, just barely exceeding Street estimates.
That’s why Bank of America and others have to be focused on cost cuts to drive profit growth. The commercial banking business remains sluggish with the U.S. is growing so slowly and Europe flirting once again with recession.
Commercial and consumer loans, mortgage originations, trading — pick a business — are either sluggish or running at a loss. Apart from growth in consumer credit cards, results are just not accelerating and it doesn’t sound as if BAC expects it to.
BAC’s current economic outlook is for growth to “grind forward” at the same 2% to 4% rut, and even that forecast is at the mercy of everything from the Ebola epidemic to crises in Ukraine and the Middle East.
But that’s not news, and that’s not the most important part of Bank of America earnings. The real story is that this should represent a return to some sort of normalcy.
The days of settlements and fines are over. Bank of America was even given a green light to raise its dividend.
Now it’s time for BAC stock to become a story about core business trends and long-term returns.
As of this writing, Dan Burrows did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.