Monday, October 31, 2011

FNB United to complete 100-1 reverse stock split

In an effort to remain listed on the Nasdaq exchange, FNB United will complete a 100 to 1 reverse stock split.

The bank, which recently merged with the Bank of Granite, closed at 23 cents Monday. As part of a $310 million capital raise, FNB United issued shares of stock at 16 cents per share. The minimum requirement to be listed is $1.

The shares will be counted as of the start of business Tuesday. No fractional shares will be issued, but will be rounded up to the nearest whole share.

There will now be 21,096,390 shares outstanding.

SunTrust is latest bank to scrap debit fees

SunTrust Banks Inc. - one of the last holdouts in the debit card fee debate - has eliminated its monthly fee, citing customer feedback, bank officials said today.

The $5 monthly fee will no longer be charged on the bank's Everyday Checking account beginning Wednesday, and all clients who have already incurred fees will receive a full refund.

"We've listened to our clients' feedback and will provide the convenience and security of check cards at no additional charge as part of all of our checking accounts," Brad Dinsmore, the Atlanta bank's head of consumer banking and private wealth management, said in a statement.

Customers won't need to take any action to receive their refunds; those will happen automatically over the next month, he said.

Some big banks implemented debit card fees this summer and fall in response to new regulations that cap the "swipe fees" merchants pay banks when customers make purchases with their cards.

But those charges have fueled outrage from customers and politicians. Charlotte-based Bank of America Corp., which has received the brunt of the criticism since announcing its planned $5 monthly fee Sept. 29, will likely scale back those charges, a person familiar with the situation said Friday.

Meanwhile, other banks have steered clear or scrapped plans for similar fees. On Friday, New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co. and San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co., which had been testing debit card fees in some markets, said they decided against implementing the charges.

BofA had 'worst' quarter of peer group, KBW says

Bank of America had the "worst" third quarter in its peer group, analysts with investment firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods say.

The bank reported earnings of 56 cents per share, but the figure was marked by a number of one-time events. KBW says when you cut through those, the earnings figure was more like 6 cents per share, according to a "best and worst" report it released Monday.

Bank of America's report also included an annualized decrease in revenue of 20 percent and increase in expenses of 6 percent, KBW says. The bank's net interest margin, or difference between what it pays to borrow and what it earns on its investments, decreased year over year.

The "best quarter" distinction went to JP Morgan Chase, which was "the best of the bad bunch" in an overall disappointing quarter, KBW's analysts said. That bank, which earned $1.02 per share, earned less in its capital markets business. But it also was able to post a return on tangible common equity much higher than its peers, KBW said.

Morgan Stanley was said to have had the best investment banking quarter, with smaller declines then its peers. It also was said to have the "best risk disclosure," laying out what exposure it has to Europe.

Goldman Sachs got the best trading quarter with strong quarter-to-quarter growth.

Bank of America's peer group, known as "universal banks," also includes Citigroup.

BofA hires financial advisors in Charlotte

Bank of America Corp. has hired more than 25 financial advisors in the Southeast, including about 10 in Charlotte, its latest move to boost perks for customers who do extensive banking and investment business there.

The Merrill Edge financial solutions advisors will help customers manage their banking and investment needs and stay in better control of their finances, the bank said. The 10 new advisors in Charlotte are the first for the bank's headquarters city, spokesman Don Vecchiarello said - and part of a plan to nearly double the number of financial solutions advisors nationally to more than 1,000 by the end of the year.

The wave of hiring is also part of Bank of America's ongoing effort to better serve its "preferred customers," those with assets of $50,000 to $250,000 - and convince more customers to do more business with the bank.

"Preferred customers have their own set of unique financial needs but have traditionally been under-served by typical retail offerings," said David Giancola, an executive appointed to manage the financial solutions advisor program in the Southeast. "... They'll now have the benefit of personal attention from an accessible specialist."

The push for customers to do more of their banking there there has become central in the debate over the bank's controversial (and soon-to-be-scaled-back) $5 debit card fees: In a conference call with analysts this month, chief executive Brian Moynihan said the fee was a way to encourage people to bring more of their "banking relationships" to the bank.

The bank has taken other steps to better serve its preferred customers, including:

  • Rolling out the Platinum Privileges program, which rewards customers with $50,000 or more in deposit or investment balances with higher levels of service and benefits, including avoiding debit card fees. The program is offered in a dozen states, including North Carolina.
  • Introducing a mobile application and adding about 500 new no-transaction fee mutual funds.
  • Beefing up customer service in select banking centers, through in-person access to investments, small-business and mortgage specialists and the use of technology such as tablet computers.
What do you think about the bank's strategy to attract and keep more affluent customers? Smart business move - or one that might alienate the bank's other customers?

Morning roundup: Bank stocks down, will BofA end its debit card fee?

Here's a look at banking and finance this morning:

What do you think? Is the debit card fee on the way out completely?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Morning roundup: fees, credit and debt

Here's a look at the financial news this morning:

  • The New York Times analyzes the European debt deal, wondering whether enthusiasm over the latest rescue effort will last longer than the optimism that greeted past plans.
What's your take on the day's news? Will the European debt deal spark a sustained market rally, or do you think investors' enthusiasm will fade?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

BofA stock up sharply as markets climb

Bank of America's stock finished up sharply Thursday, one of several financial companies to benefit from the market's rally.

The Charlotte-based bank's stock (ticker: BAC) closed up nearly 10 percent, at $7.22, the highest it's been in more than a month.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up more than 360 points, nearly 3 percent, fueled by positive news Thursday morning out of Europe. European leaders and banks agreed to mark down the value of Greek debt by 50 percent, part a deal designed to ease the euro zone's debt crisis.

Wells Fargo's stock finished up 5 percent at $27.07, JP Morgan Chase's closed up more than 8 percent at $37.02, and Citigroup finished up almost 10 percent at $34.17.

Morning roundup: Dow set to soar after Greek deal

Here's a look at what's news in banking and finance this morning:

What do you think about the financial crisis players? Did anyone get off "too easy" in your opinion?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wells Fargo elects new board member

Wells Fargo announced today that it has elected to its board Federico Peña, who served as both transportation secretary and energy secretary under President Bill Clinton and is a former mayor of Denver.

Peña, who will start the role Nov. 1, is currently a senior advisor at Vestar Capital Partners in Denver.

“I’m pleased to announce that Federico Peña, who has an impressive record of business, civic and public policy achievements, is joining our board,” Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf said in a statement. “Throughout his career, Mr. Peña has led large-scale national projects and championed innovative change for the benefit of public and private enterprises.”

At Vestar, where he has been since 1999, Peña deals with companies in the media and communications sector, focusing on the Latino community. He previously served as a managing director.

Before working in the Clinton administration, Peña founded an asset management firm, served in the Colorado House of Representatives from 1979 until 1983 and practiced law for 10 years.

He also is on the board of Sonic Corp., the drive-in eatery business.

With his addition, the Wells board has 16 members. On Nov. 1, Peña will get a stock award of market value of about $70,000.

Along with the other direcotrs, Peña will get an annual cash retainer of $75,000, a $2,000 per meeting fee and expense reimbursement for board meetings.

Survey: Bankers bearish on recovery

Accountants and bankers expect sluggish economic growth for the year ahead, a sign of continued uncertainty across the private sector, a new survey found.

The latest Financial Professionals Economic Confidence Survey from Raleigh financial research firm Sageworks Inc. found 54 percent of respondents expect the economy to be about the same a year from now as it is today.

Twenty-one percent said the economy is likely to be stronger in a year - but 19 percent believe the economy will be worse, the survey found. Less than 2 percent of the professionals polled said the economy is likely to be "much stronger" in a year.

The data come from a survey of more than 600 accountants and bankers at CPA firms, banks and credit unions across the U.S., where participants were asked to gauge the state of the economy a year from now, based on conversations with their business clients.

The results are a stark contrast from the optimism Sageworks noted in earlier polls: In January, for instance, nearly 90 percent of professionals surveyed said they believed businesses would either hire more in 2011 than 2010 or maintain their staff levels.

The latest data suggest "a general sense of malaise about the economy" that's made business owners hesitant to hire - despite better business results - due to continued uncertainty about the economy and the proposed government solutions, Sageworks said.

“They may not presently see any solutions in place that will resolve their current economic woes in a year from now,” the firm said.

Morning roundup: BofA fights back

Here's what's happening in banking and finance news this morning:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

U.S. owns 5 percent of merged FNB United

With the merger between FNB United and Bank of Granite closed, the American people now own about 5 percent of the bank.

And though a significant part of the bailout money the U.S. Treasury originally invested in FNB United won't be recovered, the new bank executives hope for the government to get the rest of the money back soon.

FNB United sold the Treasury $51.5 million in preferred stock as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2009. That was converted to common stock at a 75 percent discount as part of the merger.

"At some point in time, I would expect the Treasury would sell that back into the marketplace. We will be working with them to help facilitate that," CEO Brian Simpson told the Observer. "Our goal is to operate without government assistance and to do that as soon as we possibly can."

The taxpayers will take a loss. But had FNB United failed, the cost to the government was estimated at $500 million, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Study: Investors should adapt to manage volatility

Investors in today's volatile markets need to be more flexible, dynamic and global-minded, according to a new study from Bank of America Merrill Lynch and political consulting firm Eurasia Group Ltd.

In "The Great Global Shift: New World, New Rules," the firms discuss new investment approaches they say can help investors navigate unpredictable global markets - and capitalize on new opportunities.

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, for instance, developed countries are turning inward to fix infrastructure and financial problems, while emerging countries are showing promise for continued growth, the report says. As a result, investors can get ahead of the curve by looking at a group of countries, rather than just the U.S., when considering how to allocate their assets.

Lisa Shalett, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management's chief investment officer, said during a conference call today that investors should keep three things in mind as they build their portfolios in an increasingly volatile global environment:

  • Portfolios should be more global. Instead of focusing solely on the U.S., investors should be open to investments in places such as Turkey, Indonesia and Brazil. "What we're talking about is really opening your mind to where all the growth in the world is," she said. "It's asking ourselves the question, is what we once believed was safe truly safe? And is what we believed was risky really risky?"
  • Investors should be more flexible. Consider emerging-market sovereign bonds and high-yield bonds instead of solely U.S. Treasury bonds and municipal bonds, for instance.
  • Investors need to be more dynamic. In a volatile environment, portfolios can quickly drift away from a preferred investment strategy - so instead of re-evaluating their portfolio once a year, investors should consider working with an advisor two to three times a year. "You can't set it and forget it," Shalett said.
As investors consider those changes, they should still hold tight to their core principles, such as sticking with an investment strategy and diversifying their portfolios, she said. But she urged them to think outside of the box when it comes to what strategy they employ and what diversification really means.

"It's a connection between all the talk," Shalett said. "The world is different, but let's not be stuck in fear. ... Let's understand that environment and take some action to get to the outcomes we want to achieve."

Wells Fargo announces fourth-quarter dividend

Wells Fargo announced today a fourth-quarter dividend of 12 cents per share, the same level it has been all year.

The dividend will be payable on Dec. 1 to stockholders of record on Nov. 4. The company has about 5.3 billion shares outstanding, meaning about $635 million will be paid out.

Wells has declared quarterly dividends of 12 cents each quarter this year. Last year, the quarterly dividend was 5 cents per share. In 2009, the quarterly dividend fell from 34 cents in the first quarter to 5 cents in the second.

For comparison, Bank of America's quarterly dividend has been 1 cent since the first quarter of 2009. The Federal Reserve rejected its request for a dividend increase earlier this year.

Two-thirds of banks meet or beat expectations

Two-thirds of the 71 banks tracked by financial services firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, Inc. met or beat expectations in the third-quarter, according to a research report from its analysts.

Forty-two beat consensus estimates, five met them, and 24 missed, the firm reported. The largest banks showed a 14 percent increase in operating earnings per share,

Deposits also grew at an annual rate of 4 percent, KBW says.

But all is not rosy. Large banks reported that net interest margin -- or the difference between what a bank makes on its investments and what it pays to depositors -- compressed by an average of 11 basis points.

Loans were also relatively flat, KBW reported.

Wells Fargo waives fees on remittances to India through Nov. 4

Wells Fargo customers can send money to family in India fee-free through Nov. 4 in honor of one of the nation's most important cultural festivals.

Diwali, known as the fesetival of lights, runs from mid-October through the beginning of November.

Wells Fargo customers can use the bank's ExpressSend service to send remittances to India without transfer fees, the bank says. Transfer fees to India are generally $5 for a transfer from an account or $7 from cash.

Morning roundup: BofA loses exec to rival, banks flush with cash

Here's a look at what's news in banking and finance this morning:

Monday, October 24, 2011

Wells Fargo tops list of small-business lenders

Wells Fargo & Co. might not earn perfect marks with its small-business customers - but the bank doled out more money in small-business loans than any other lender this year, new data from the U.S. Small Business Administration show.

The San Francisco bank, which bought Charlotte's Wachovia in 2008, approved more than $1.2 billion in SBA loans in the federal government's 2011 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. That's up nearly 40 percent from the year before, and enough to rank Wells Fargo No. 1 on the SBA's list of more than 2,700 U.S. lenders.

Wells ranked second by number of loans - about 3,140, up 27 percent from the year before - behind New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co.

"Small businesses create jobs, drive economic growth and are essential to our nation's recovery," David Rader, head of Wells' SBA lending division, said in a news release today.

Earlier this year, Wells Fargo announced it was the first lender to approve more than $1 billion in SBA 7(a) loans to small businesses in a federal fiscal year.

The latest ranking comes a few days after a J.D. Power and Associates study placed Wells Fargo and Charlotte-based Bank of America Corp. at the bottom of a list of major U.S. banks in small-business customer satisfaction. The survey measured customer satisfaction based on factors from fees to problem resolution to customer relationships.

Bank of America ranked well below Wells Fargo in 2011 SBA lending, placing 54th in dollars and 28th by number of loans issued. Still, that outpaced the majority of banks on the list.

Bank of America officials have said they're ramping up small-business lending, with plans to hire 1,000 small-business bankers by early 2012.

Spokesman Don Vecchiarello said last week the bank continues to improve its service, having recently launched new processes to help the bank capture and respond to customer issues and expanded the number of employees responding to customer issues across the business.

BofA launches new small business payroll system

Bank of America has partnered with Intuit Inc. to launch a new full-service payroll system -- which will become part of a new package to serve small businesses.

The new Intuit Full Service Payroll guarantees that paychecks and tax withholding will be error-free and consists of both software and customer support. Bank of America will begin offering the service to customers today.

The product reflects a recent emphasis on small business customers. The company is rolling out a new package of services called Business Platinum Privileges for small businesses that keep at least $50,000 in deposits with the bank, said Jarett Isralow, small business product solutions executive.

BofA is also hiring 1,000 small business bankers by next year.

The small business efforts dovetail with the bank's new benefits for "preferred" customers, or individuals with at least $50,000 in deposits and investments.

Morning roundup: BofA "beyond control"?

Here's a look at what's making banking news this morning:

Friday, October 21, 2011

Belmont S&L to cut ribbon on new office

Belmont Federal Savings & Loan Association will cut the ribbon next week on a new office after spending 42 years in its headquarters.

President Mike Anthony said the savings and loan officially moved into the new building on Monday. The ribbon cutting will be held next Friday, Oct. 28, at 9 a.m. There will be an open house from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Belmont Federal was created in 1915 and serves Gaston County. It has been at 42 Catawba St. in Belmont and will now be at 210 Park St. The bank broke ground on the new location last year, the Gaston Gazette reported at the time.

It had about $95 million in assets as of June 30, according to the Office of Thrift Supervision. It had about $78.5 million in deposits and $56.6 million in mortgage loans.

Morning roundup: Wells Fargo sees opportunity to grow mortgage business

Here's a look at what's going on in banking, business and finance:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

NewDominion names new CFO

Charlotte-based NewDominion Bank has named a new chief financial officer.

Blaine Jackson previously served in the same role at First Cherokee State Bank near Atlanta.

"I have worked with a number of CFOs in my career and Blaine is as talented as you will find," CEO John Hipp said in a statement.

"His background and core strengths are perfect compliments to the new executive team. We expect he will be an exceptionally talented leader and will have a huge positive impact on our company. Charlotte is gaining a highly talented banker."

Hipp said Jackson is the "final piece" in a rebuilt management team. The bank hired two other new executives over the summer.

Jackson, who has a master's in accounting from the University of Alabama, said he plans to relocate his wife and sons to Charlotte from Atlanta early next year.

The Charlotte area is a fantastic place to raise a family and grow a business," Jackson said in the statement. "The opportunities in front of us are exciting and I look forward to becoming involved in this wonderful community."

Morning roundup: BB&T beats expectations

Here's a quick look at what financial news is being reported this morning:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Avoiding BofA debit card fee set to get harder

There's been some confusion about how Bank of America debit card customers can avoid the soon-to-come $5 debit fee. And that's understandable: The bank is promoting ways to avoid the fee that won't be available next year when the fee rolls out.

As the bank's checking account options transition, avoiding the fee is set to get harder. In essence, you'll need $20,000 with the bank to avoid the fee instead of the $5,000 you'd need under options available today.

In public statements to the media, the bank has said you can avoid the fee if you have an "Advantage" checking account. In many parts of the country (including Charlotte), it's relatively easy to qualify: you need only to have $5,000 in checking or a linked savings account.

But the Advantage account is going away, bank spokeswoman Anne Pace said Wednesday. New checking account packages now being tested in three states are set to roll out across the country at some point next year, Pace said.

The bank will work with customers with existing checking accounts to find out what package is best for them, Pace said.

After that, the easiest way to avoid the fee will be to qualify for "Premium solutions," which requires a $20,000 combined balance between deposits and investment accounts.

That's unless you have a mortgage with the bank. Those customers will not pay a debit card fee.
Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said Tuesday in a conference call with analysts that "a lot of people" who have all of their "banking relationships" with BofA will avoid the fee.

Pace said he was likely referring to mortgages.

Bank of America's overall mortgage business lost money in the third quarter. But the company's new home loans made a "modest" profit, executives said in a presentation to analysts. The losses came from loans brought in during the Countrywide acquisition in 2008.

Wells Fargo launching brand in Charlotte

Wells Fargo & Co. has converted its N.C. branches and bank accounts, one of the last steps in the largest bank merger in U.S. history. Now, Wells hopes a series of celebrations will drive brand recognition in the former Wachovia's headquarters city.

The San Francisco-based bank is hosting a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its uptown branch Thursday afternoon, complete with remarks from bank leaders and a check presentation to a local charity.

Afterward, Wells Fargo is giving employees and reporters a "sneak peek" of its new history museum. The 6,000-square-foot space in Three Wells Fargo Center, which includes a recreated bank office based on the first Wachovia Bank in Winston-Salem, opens Oct. 29.

The same day, Wells Fargo hosts a Community Celebration, open to the public, that features free admission to uptown museums, live art demonstrations and an outdoor concert.

Wells Fargo bought ailing Wachovia at the height of the financial crisis in 2008 and slowly converted its branches and accounts across the country. About 320 banking locations and 650 ATMs in North Carolina traded their familiar blue-and-green Wachovia signs for red-and-yellow Wells logos on Saturday and Monday.

Wells has been trying to make a name for itself in Charlotte long before the final switch: Besides rebranding its Charlotte offices, advertisements and sponsorships, it has stepped up charitable giving. The bank donates about $7 million a year in the Charlotte area, up from the average $5 million Wachovia gave annually, officials said.

Morning roundup: earnings, fees and competition

Each day, we'll provide a quick look at the buzz - from around the Internet - on the banking industry and Charlotte's major players.

Plenty of news outlets this morning are still dissecting Bank of America Corp.'s $5.9 billion third-quarter profit, muddled by one-time gains, as well as its fall to No. 2 U.S. bank by assets. Investors, at least, appear to be on board, with the bank's stock climbing in early trading.

Here's what a few others are reporting:

-- The Wall Street Journal examines the pain rippling through the financial sector, citing investment-banking titan Goldman Sachs Group Inc.'s quarterly loss and BofA's slip from the nation's largest bank.

-- The Journal's Deal Journal blog provides a colorful look at BofA's deposits, assets, branches and market cap compared to its top competitors.

-- The Associated Press declares higher bank fees are "here to stay," with the latest earnings confirming banks are being forced to make money the old-fashioned way: lending to consumers and businesses.

-- Reuters reports that talks between states and top banks over mortgage abuses are nearing a settlement, with a deal possible by the end of the month.

 -- MSN Money's Michael Brush makes a case for Occupy Wall Street.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

BofA loses billing as country's biggest bank

Bank of America is no longer America's biggest bank.

As the company continues to sell off pieces of its business, the bank's total assets have fallen. With today's quarterly earnings report, the figure fell below that of JP Morgan Chase.

BofA now has $2.22 trillion in total assets. JPM, which increased its total assets in the third quarter, is at $2.29 trillion.

Wikipedia was quick to jump on the news. Here's a screenshot from early this morning (click to enlarge):

And here's one from later in the morning:

What do you think about the change? Has Charlotte lost a point of pride? Do the numbers not really matter?

Reactions to Bank of America's earnings

Obviously, the biggest banking news in Charlotte is the release of Bank of America's third quarter earnings. The top-line figure: BofA posted a $5.9 billion profit after preferred stock dividends, reversing a $9.1 billion loss from last quarter.

But once you get behind that number, things get murkier. The bank recorded more than $10 billion in one-time gains, along with $5.5 billion in one-time losses. At noon, the stock was up more than 7 percent at $6.46.

Here's what a few other news outlets have to say at midday:

Welcome to Bank Watch

Welcome to Bank Watch, the Observer's new banking blog. Here you'll find the latest news and notes on Bank of America, Wells Fargo, the financial industry, our region's smaller banks and the state of banking in North Carolina.

Each day, we'll round up what investors and analysts are talking about and the buzz in the financial world. We'll also give you reports on happenings at Charlotte's banks, new banking industry research and other news. The point is to offer the most relevant information for Charlotte's consumers, shareholders and employees.

You'll see blog posts from Kirsten Pittman and Andrew Dunn, the Observer's banking team. We want to hear from you, so please leave comments or reach out to us via the contact information to the right of the screen.

Stay in touch.