Friday, December 30, 2011

Morning roundup: What's in store for BofA stock?

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

  • Bank of America is on track to be this year's worst performer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Bloomberg reports. Shares have fallen nearly 60 percent this year, erasing almost $80 billion of shareholder value, as concerns about mortgage-related troubles and overall economic unrest have rattled investors.

  • But readers of TheStreet said in a recent poll the Charlotte-based bank's shares will top $10 by the end of next year.

  • The investment-banking role in Facebook Inc.'s IPO is up for grabs, and big banks are facing off, the Wall Street Journal reports. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are reportedly front-runners.

  • Global markets were closing 2011 on a positive note, but most still saw big declines for the year, the AP reports.

  • The markets remain risky. But for savers confident that better times are ahead, it's a great time to buy, Reuters explains.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Analyst: Consumers feeling better about the recovery

The economic recovery is taking longer than many hoped, but one measure - consumers' financial anxiety - seems to be improving, analyst Dan Geller reports.

His Money Anxiety Index, which measures how economic indicators are affecting consumer behavior, began to decline in July after rising steadily through the recession and recovery. The index hit 95.1 in December, down from 99.5 earlier this year, said Geller, executive vice president of Market Rates Insight, a California research firm that analyzes bank pricing.

The improvement is due in part to the falling national unemployment rate and has translated to higher retail sales in recent months, he said. Still, despite the declining anxiety, the index remains at the same level as during the recession of the early 1980s, Geller said.

"The current level of consumer financial anxiety is still very high," he said.

The Money Anxiety Index measures consumers' financial worries based on economic indicators, rather than how they say they feel about the economy. It has fluctuated from a high of 136 in the 1980s to a low of 40.3 in the mid-1960s.

Bank CEOs out-earned shareholders and employees in 2011

In a research note filled with data, banking industry analyst Dick Bove of Rochdale Securities laid out Thursday how bank CEO salaries compared with shareholder value and compensation given to the bank's employees in 2011.

The results?

Despite earnings per share increasing more than 13 percent at the two dozen banks the securities firm studies, stock prices fell more than 30 percent. CEOs, however, brought in about 65 more times than the average employee salary.

"What is clear, assuming I have the numbers right, is that CEOs of banks are doing considerably better than bank employees and bank shareholders," Bove writes.

At Bank of America, the numbers break down thusly:

Stock price

Dec. 31, 2010: $13.34
Dec. 24, 2011: $5.29
Percent change: (60.3 percent)

Earnings per share

2010: ($0.37)
2011 (estimated): $0.04


CEO Brian Moynihan's take-home pay: $2,259,521
Moynihan's "expensed compensation": $1,940,069
Average employee compensation: $127,907
Moynihan take-home/employee average: 17.7

The CEO with the largest salary was JPMorgan Chase and Co.'s Jamie Dimon, who took home $41,990,521 after exercising nearly $23 million worth of stock options. That put his pay at 365.6 times the average employee salary.

Edit: The "average employee compensation" at Bank of America is derived from taking total compensation expense and dividing by the total number of employees.

Richmond Fed says Carolinas' business activity improved in December

The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond said Thursday that business activity increased steadily in North and South Carolina this month, jumping for the second month in a row.

But labor demand remained weak, and expectations for six months out remain steady, the Richmond Fed said in its monthly Carolinas Survey of Business Activity.

"Despite an apparent upturn in general business activity, firms remained reluctant to hire," the report said.

The survey is sent out monthly to 160 businesses who collectively match the profile of the two states. Typically about half respond.

Morning roundup: BofA short-sale pilot program has few takers

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

  • A Bank of America pilot program that offered Florida homeowners cash payouts of $5,000 to $20,000 to short-sell their homes garnered little response, the St. Petersburg Times reports.
  • Remaining in Florida, a judge has ruled that a company Bank of America contracted with to try to collect a dead man's debts harassed the man's widow, the Wall Street Journal says. Legally, family members are not obligated to pay a deceased relative's debts, but the company called the woman up to 10 times per day.
  • U.S. prosecutors are issuing subpoenas to people they suspect have hidden Swiss bank accounts, Reuters reports.
  • In a related story, new rules that will require banks to disclose more information about customers who keep deposits in a country other than their own have banks around the world worried, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Charlotte community bank consulting firm to hire 6

Charlotte-based TruPoint Partners, a consulting and data analytics firm that helps community banks and credit unions with compliance and marketing, announced that it will be hiring six new employees in the first quarter of 2012 as it expands.

The hiring coincides with the company's launch of an online platform to help with reporting for regulatory compliance and management.

“Compliance costs are rising dramatically and many believe they will outpace earnings in the foreseeable future,” CEO Trey Sullivan said in a statement. “Our clients told us that something had to be done to reduce complexity and make it easier to access and understand their data."

Morning roundup: A case for Dodd-Frank?

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

  • Despite the criticism of Dodd-Frank - and some burdensome rules that come with it - the financial reform law contains an "elegant core of sensible ideas," a Bloomberg editorial says.

  • Gold has been one of the year's best investments. But shares of gold miners are down, and that's hurt some of the biggest names on Wall Street, the Wall Street Journal reports.

  • Analysts are still bullish on Bank of America: Seeking Alpha rates the Charlotte bank a "buy," saying it could benefit a diversified long-term investor.

  • An arm of the Pew Charitable Trusts has created an interactive feature called "Transaction Infraction" to illustrate how the way a bank processes transactions affects customers' fees. The New York Times' Bucks blog explains.

  • Stock futures pointed to a higher open this morning, but many investors are waiting until the new year to make big bets, Reuters reports.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Morning roundup: Moynihan tells employees that more improvement is coming

Here's a look at what's news in banking and finance after the long weekend:

  • Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan told employees in a year-end letter that the bank has strengthened its "risk culture" and is looking forward to more improvement in 2012, Bloomberg reports.
  • The New York Post calls Bank of America a "three-headed monster," telling executives to get rid of Countrywide and spin off Merrill Lynch.
  • The Associated Press has a primer on bank fees to scour your statement for.
  • While credit might be tighter for consumers, corporate borrowing is booming, CNBC says.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Analysts predict bank fundamental improvement in 2012

A new research note from analysts at financial services firm Stifel Nicolaus say the fundamentals at U.S. banks will continue to improve in 2012,

The analysts cite Wells Fargo as a top recommendation.

Among the findings:
  • Thirty banks should raise dividends this year, by a median of 25 percent.
  • Earnings per share should rise 14 percent.
  • Profitability will improve, with return on assets increasing to 0.87 percent from 0.81 percent.
Not all the findings are rosy. The analysts also predicted net interest margins to fall eight

In what will become a much-discussed topic as 2012 wears on, Stifel predicts that Bank of America will be able to raise its dividend to 4 cents per share from the penny it has been for two years. Memorably, regulators rejected the Charlotte bank's request to increase its dividend this year.

But, the analysts note, even that increase does "little to make investors whole."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bank of North Carolina to buy Durham commercial bank

Thomasville-based Bank of North Carolina announced Wednesday that it has agreed to acquire Durham-based KeySource Financial Inc. in an all-stock deal worth $12.2 million.

The merger will allow Bank of North Carolina to expand its commercial banking presence in the Triangle. KeySource's commercial bank subsidiary reported $157 million in loans at the end of the third quarter, largely in the Durham and Raleigh area.

It marks the third deal in recent months for Bank of North Carolina. The bank also acquired Blue Ridge Savings Bank and Regent Bank of South Carolina.

Fifth Third customers target of text scams

Some customers of Fifth Third Bank have reported a text messaging scam claiming that their accounts have been locked. The bank cautions customers not to follow the directions included in the texts.

The bank has a primer on text messaging scams on its website.

News of the scam comes just days after the Cincinnati-based bank with a significant presence in Charlotte announced a new mobile phone and text-based banking system.

Banks have increasingly used cell phone text messaging to communicate with their customers. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said this week in Charlotte that his bank sends about 20 million texts per month warning customers that their checking account balances are low.

Morning roundup: BofA hit hardest by fee crackdowns

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

  • Bank of America is close to settling a U.S. Department of Justice fair-lending probe into Countrywide, Bloomberg reports. This has to do with price discrimination and pushing minority borrowers into particular products. It is not the far-reaching settlement being pursued with the DOJ and dozens of state attorneys general.
  • A new report shows that Bank of America has been hit the hardest by new regulations that crack down on fees banks can charge, Forbes says, including new rules on overdraft protection and swipe fees.
  • The New York Times discusses investor worries about bank stocks.
  • Here's some good news: North Carolina's bank robberies have fallen in the last decade, the N&O reported.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

BofA stock climbs back above $5

A day after sinking to its lowest level in two years, Bank of America's stock climbed back above $5 in Tuesday's trading.

On a strong day for the markets in general, the Charlotte bank's stock rallied nearly 4 percent to close at $5.17.

The stock closed at $4.99 yesterday, though it fell as low as $4.92. With after-hours treading, it opened Tuesday at $5.11.

Bank of America sold second-most nonaccrual assets in 3Q

Bank of America sold the second-most nonaccrual assets out of a group of top-tier banks in the third quarter, a new report from SNL Financial shows. But the Charlotte bank still has more nonperforming assets on its books than any other.

SNL's report says that the pace of distressed asset sales is still slowing, hampered by weak capital positions across the industry.

Bank of America sold about $615 million in nonaccruing assets in the third quarter, according to SNL data, second only to Citigroup's $1 billion. But Bank of America still had $31.6 billion in distressed assets on its books, more than any other bank in its sampling.

Wells Fargo sold $232 million in nonperforming assets in the time period, with $22 billion still on the books.

Federal Reserve releases proposals to strengthen big-bank regulation

The Federal Reserve released long-awaited proposals Tuesday to strengthen regulations on the country's biggest banks, including Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

As expected, banks with more than $50 billion in assets would increase capital and liquidity requirements -- meaning banks would have to keep more money on hand.

In annual stress tests, banks would have to demonstrate that they would stay above capital and liquidity minimums in both expected conditions and in a significant downturn.

The statement from the Fed indicated that its rules would not be more stringent than in-development international capital standards.

The Dodd-Frank financial reform law was the impetus for the proposals.

PNC gets Fed approval to buy RBC

Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group has gotten the Federal Reserve's approval to buy RBC Bank -- meaning the Charlotte area is set to see a new bank brand.

The acquisition of the Raleigh bank was announced in June, but the Fed signed off on the deal in a statement released late Monday. The Fed said it would give its reasons for approving the purchase soon. It's expected to close in March.

RBC has 18 branches in the Charlotte metropolitan area, 11 of which are in Mecklenburg County, according to FDIC data. Its $1.1 billion in local deposits gives it the region's seventh-largest market share.

Morning roundup: Winners and losers

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

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wells Fargo buys Irish bank subsidiary

Wells Fargo announced Monday plans to buy a commercial finance subsidiary from the Bank of Ireland.

The San Francisco-based bank will acquire Burdale Financial Holdings Limited and the portfolio from Burdale Capital Finance Inc. Headquartered in London, the companies have more than $1 billion in loans from clients in the U.S. and United Kingdom.

The company said the move is part of the bank's expansion into international markets. Wells has bought three portfolios from Irish banks in the past year.

Morning roundup: Lenders dragging feet on mortgage modifications

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

  • Despite federal programs like HAMP encouraging lenders to modify loans, big banks like Bank of America have "dragged their feet" in making widespread modifications, Reuters reports. Instead, they continue to lose documents and use faulty figures.
  • Four members of the U.S. House received "VIP" loans from Countrywide, raising questions about attempts to "curry political influence," the Wall Street Journal reports. The VIP loan program generally gave lower interest rates or lower fees.
  • Former BofA CEO Hugh McColl says the man who now holds the title is doing "all the right things," Reuters says. In case you missed it, here's our take from the weekend on Brian Moynihan at the close of his second year.
  • Banks like Wells Fargo are increasingly targeting female executives, hoping they will bring their deposits and business, Bloomberg says.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bank of America completes new stock issuance

Bank of America announced Friday that it has completed the new stock and senior debt issuance that it began last month, used to swap out preferred stock and junior debt.

In total, the Charlotte-based bank issued 400 million new shares and $2.3 billion in senior notes. The swap raises the bank's Tier 1 common capital by $3.9 billion, increasing the ratio by 29 basis points.

In a quarterly securities filing, Bank of America said it would consider issuing up to 400 million new shares and $3 billion in senior debt. The bank said at the time that it was not spurred by a need to raise capital, but rather to take advantage of market conditions that allow it to retire higher-interest debt at lower costs.

In total, roughly $2.3 billion in common stock and $2.3 billion in senior debt was used to retire a combined $5.8 billion in preferred stock and junior debt.

Morning roundup: Wells fined $2 million after improper sales to elderly

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

  • Wells Fargo was fined $2 million after the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority determined one of the bank's salesmen improperly sold derivative products to elderly people. Bloomberg has the story.
  • Both credit card defaults and late payments were down in November for Bank of America credit card customers, the Associated Press reports.
  • Bank failures have cost the Federal Deposit Insurance Fund about $88 billion in the last few years, while federal regulators largely work in secret, Bloomberg says. Industry leaders are calling for more transparency.
  • Chase is the first bank to simplify its credit card disclosure agreement using a template prepared by the Pew Charitable Trusts and endorsed by some lawmakers, the New York Times reports. Bank Watch wrote about the agreement last month.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fitch downgrades Bank of America, other big banks

Fitch Ratings downgraded Bank of America and seven other big banks on Thursday, citing the uncertain economy and a tough regulatory environment.

The Charlotte-based bank's issuer default rating fell to "A" from "A+" in the move. A statement from Fitch said that Bank of America's legal risk is higher than its peers, and capital position weaker.

Wells Fargo's rating was unchanged. Goldman Sachs and Barclays were also among the downgraded.

The wave of downgrades came as Fitch completed a broad review of the largest banks. It also determined that only eight institutions would likely bring government support in the event of a crisis. Both Bank of America and Wells Fargo were on the list.

Fitch's downgrade is the latest to hit Bank of America. Standard & Poor's cut Bank of America's rating late last month.

Bank of America's stock was relatively unchanged Thursday, closing at $5.26.

Largest banks to make progress, regional banks to outperform market next year, KBW says

The largest banks will continue making progress next year, but the industry's many problems are taking longer than expected to resolve, analysts at investment firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods said in a series of research notes Thursday.

Meanwhile, regional banks are poised to outperform the market next year.

The analyses were part of KBW's year-ahead outlook. A report was published for universal banks (the largest, including Bank of America and Citigroup), large-cap banks (including BB&T and Fifth Third) and regional banks.

Universal banks: The analysts recommended investors market weight the stocks despite underperforming this year -- though they're the most cautious about Bank of America. The European financial crisis, mortgage issues, the Volcker Rule implementation and weak capital markets activity will still buffet them.

Large-cap banks: This class gets mixed opinions. The analysts said to buy shares of the banks that will be able to redeploy capital the best. They gave Winston-Salem's BB&T high marks.

Regional banks: This group has significant advantages over its larger peers, the analysts said, including not having to participate in the federal government's stress tests and no European exposure. They expect profitable M&A activity to pick up in the second half of the year.

Wells Fargo workshop seeks to help about 340 homeowners

About 340 homeowners in the Charlotte area registered to participate in a home preservation workshop today organized by Wells Fargo.

The event, held in the Westin Hotel's ballroom, matched homeowners struggling to make payments on their mortgage with underwriters and other bank employees who could walk them through which modification programs they could qualify for and other options for avoiding foreclosure.

This was the 48th workshop the San Francisco-based bank has organized around the country, and the first in Charlotte. Wells Fargo has participated in similar workshops in Charlotte put together by nonprofits or other organizations.

About 10,000 people in the Charlotte region who were at least 31 days late on their mortgages were invited to attend. About 340 people signed up, though walk-ins were accepted as well. A number of nonprofits also attended to tell them about government programs that help homeowners make payments after losing their jobs or facing another temporary financial hardship.

Wells Fargo services one in six U.S. mortgages, the bank said. Typically, two out of every three people who come to a workshop are able to find an answer that day.

Morning roundup: Banks making fees easier to understand

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

  • A big bank and two credit unions are making checking account fees easier to understand, Reuters reports. JPMorgan Chase & Co., the Pentagon Federal Credit Union and the N.C. State Employees' Credit Union are presenting the fees in shorter, simpler tables.

  • Check out which financial institutions make Bloomberg's list of the worst stocks in 2011.

  • The Securities and Exchange Commission wants to fight the federal judge who thinks the agency has been too lenient on big banks, the Wall Street Journal writes. SEC leaders might vote to appeal the judge's rejection of a proposed settlement between the agency and Citigroup Inc., people familiar with the situation told the Journal.

  • ProPublica's Jesse Eisinger also weighs in on the SEC, wondering whether the agency is being too timid when it comes to the financial crisis.

  • The Street argues that the worst is yet to come for Bank of America.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Free foreclosure help from Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo & Co. is offering help for struggling homeowners in Charlotte Thursday at the bank's largest one-day workshop of the year.

The free Home Preservation Workshop will be held from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. at the Westin Charlotte, 601 S. College St. Wells Fargo, which bought Charlotte's Wachovia in 2008, invited more than 10,000 Carolinas mortgage customers to the event, it said.

During the workshop, homeowners having trouble making their payments will meet with mortgage specialists to discuss the available options. Borrowers will receive a decision on a loan modification or other option on site or shortly after the event when possible, the bank said.

Registration is closed, but walk-ins are welcome. Click here for more information or call 1-800-405-8067.

Morning roundup: Euro worries persist

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

  • Bank analyst Meredith Whitney predicted "hundreds of billions of dollars" of municipal defaults, investors fled the market - and banks cashed in. Bloomberg explains.

  • U.S. stock futures dipped this morning as investors' anxiety over European debt continued, The Wall Street Journal reports.

  • Applications for refinancing on home mortgages jumped last week, according to The Mortgage Bankers Association, Reuters reports.

  • Fortune lays out the "best and worst" of Wall Street, with a nod to Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan.

  • The New York Times examines Wall Street's "odd couple" of private equity and public pensions, saying public pensions pay billions in fees to private equity.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bank of America also once advertised on "All-American Muslim"

Lowe's isn't the only Charlotte-area company whose advertising on the "All-American Muslim" television show was questioned.

Bank of America said Tuesday that it purchased a single ad on the TLC reality show Nov. 27 and that its "airing schedule is now complete" -- but did not address whether pressure from a Florida ultra-conservative organization contributed to the decision not to advertise further.

"Our schedule never called for additional ads to run outside of this single ad," a spokesman said in an email to the Observer.

The statement comes a day after Mooresville-based Lowe's Home Improvement stood by its decision to pull its advertising from the show, which depicts Muslims living normal lives in Dearborn, Mich.

Soon after the show premiered Nov. 13, the Florida Family Association, which calls the show "propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger" to America, launched a campaign to pressure advertisers on the show to remove their support.

The email campaign targeted dozens of companies that aired ads in November, including Charlotte-based Bank of America and Lowe's.

In an update on its website that appears to have been posted last week, the Florida Family Association states that 65 of the companies it targeted did not advertise in the episodes that aired Dec. 4 and Dec. 5. Only two companies -- Amazon (for the Kindle) and Merck & Co. (for the Dulera asthma inhaler) -- it targeted advertised again, the association says.

Most of the companies have been hesitant to comment on their decisions. Liberal groups and a Democratic lawmaker have taken the home improvement chain to task for pulling its ads.

BofA hires its chief data officer from New York Fed

Bank of America announced Tuesday that it has hired John Bottega to be its chief data officer. He most recently worked in a similar role at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Bottega also has worked as a chief data officer at Citigroup. Before that, he worked at Credit Suisse, Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers.

He is based in New York.

Morning roundup: Foreclosure settlement could be imminent

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

  • A $19 billion settlement between five large lenders and a number of federal agencies and state attorneys general over mortgage practices like robo-signing could be imminent, the Wall Street Journal reports. The deal seemed to have been weakened in recent weeks when California left negotiations. Should the state rejoin, the settlement figure likely would be higher.

  • The "pain may not be over for U.S. banks," Reuters says in an analysis piece this morning. When stock prices hit the kind of lows that the financial industry has seen this year, investors tend to snap up what they deem bargains. But that's not happening amid ongoing worries about Europe and compressed revenue.

  • Fed chairman Ben Bernanke's second four-year term ends in 2014, and sources tell the Wall Street Journal he is unlikely to seek another. These last two years will be critical in defining his legacy, the Journal says.

  • Ivy League branches of Occupy Wall Street are targeting recruiting efforts by the top-level financial firms, Bloomberg reports. Goldman Sachs cancelled visits to Harvard and Brown last week after earlier incidents.

BofA customer satisfaction stagnant, credit unions rise, ACSI says

Customer satisfaction with Bank of America remained stagnant this year while satisfaction with credit unions reached a new high, according to a report released this morning from the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

The index is based on interviews with about 70,000 customers, who are asked about their expectations and brands' perceived quality and value.

On a scale from 0 to 100, Bank of America scored a 68, the same as last year and the lowest of the four big banks individually surveyed. Wells Fargo scored a 73, a gain of four points. Citigroup also jumped four to 73, and JPMorgan Chase increased by three, to 70.

Small banks, lumped into a category of "all other," scored a 79.

Credit unions scored an 87, up from 80 last year. That mark represents the highest rating any industry has received, the ACSI says.

“Because of their size, both small banks and credit unions benefit from an ability to provide more personalized service,” ACSI founder Claes Fornell said in a statement accompanying survey results. “The challenge for these smaller institutions will be how best to maintain high levels of customer service with minimal or no fees amid a major influx of new customers.”

For comparison, the health insurance industry dropped a point to 72, life insurance stayed steady at 80, and property and casualty insurance rose three points to 83.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Jones won't seek re-election to BofA board

D. Paul Jones Jr., who served on Bank of America's board of directors for two years, will not seek re-election, the bank announced Monday.

Jones, who served on the audit committee and the corporate governance committee, notified the bank of his intentions Thursday, the bank said in a securities filing.

Jones was elected to the board in June 2009. Previously, he was president, CEO and chairman of Compass Bancshares, Inc., based in Birmingham, Ala. He also served as a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and is presently a lawyer at Balch & Bingham, LLP.

In 2010, Jones earned $240,000 in cash and stock as a Bank of America director. New directors will be chosen at the bank's annual meeting May 9.

CommunityONE names new executives

CommunityONE, the banking arm of Asheboro-based FNB United, has announced a new team of executives for its commercial, consumer, mortgage and wealth management divisions.

The announcement comes as FNB United reworks its business under a new chief executive officer and new president and integrates with recently acquired Bank of Granite. All of the newly announced leaders, save for one, were already with the bank.

Per the announcement, Don Harrison and Greg Spainhour will oversee commercial banking division, Pam Frey will lead consumer banking, Mark Hensley will manage mortgage banking and Scott Kittrell will head wealth management.

Only Frey is new to the bank. She previously spent nearly three decades at Wachovia.

BofA survey: CFOs less optimistic about economy

Financial executives across the country remain worried about the economy, though many expect their companies to hire in 2012, according to a new report from Bank of America Corp.

The latest Bank of America Merrill Lynch CFO Outlook survey, released today, found just 38 percent of executives surveyed expect the U.S. economy to grow in 2012, down from 56 percent last year.

The 600 executives surveyed this fall, who represent a wide range of U.S. companies, rated the current economy a 44 out of 100. That's down from 47 last year and tied for the lowest score in the survey's 14-year history.

CFOs said they were strongly concerned about a number of factors, including the effectiveness of government leaders, the U.S. budget deficit, health care costs and unemployment, the survey found.

"The optimism took a little bit of a tumble since our last survey," Laura Whitley, head of Global Commercial Banking at Charlotte-based Bank of America, said in a conference call presentation this morning. "CFOs clearly remain concerned about the economy."

Yet just 7 percent of executives surveyed predict layoffs at their firms next year, while nearly half said they expected to hire new employees, the report found. More than half, 56 percent, expect their company's revenues to grow next year, too, though that's down from 64 percent last year.

"Despite the cautious economic outlook, CFOs are not hiding out in the bunkers," Whitley said. "Businesses are still moving forward, but at a reduced speed."

Morning roundup: U.S. bank credit growing

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

Friday, December 9, 2011

Wells Fargo is most valuable bank brand, consulting firm says

Wells Fargo is again the country's most valuable bank brand, according to an index compiled by the consulting firm Bancography.

Fifth Third Bank, at No. 4, cracked the top five for the first time. BB&T is at No. 7 and Charlotte-based Bank of America at No. 8.

The annual index, released this week, attempts to quantify what part of its long-term value is attributable to intangible factors, including reputation, image and customer service.

"The top performing institutions share consistent earnings and the low cost of funds that is inherent in strong financial brands," the firm said.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo also took the top spot in 2008.

Electronic Payments Coalition launches campaign criticizing swipe fee cap

The Electronic Payments Coalition, an industry group that represents banks and card networks, has launched a campaign that criticizes the recently implemented swipe fee caps by questioning where the consumer savings are.

A provision in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law passed last summer limited the amount banks can charge merchants for each debit card transaction. The provision was backed by retailers and widely decried by banks.

The coalition's new website -- called -- includes the results of its own survey that it says shows that merchants have largely kept prices the same or increased them despite saving money. It says retailers have "broken promises."

Bank of America, Wells Fargo, BB&T, and the North Carolina Bankers Association are members of the Electronic Payments Coalition, among many others.

Morning roundup: European banks need more capital

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

  • The New York Times points out an interesting discrepancy in the settlement Wells Fargo made with regulators over bid-rigging in the Wachovia days: The Department of Justice made the bank admit to illegal activity, and the SEC did not. It highlights a difference in how the two agencies deal with lawbreaking on Wall Street, the Times says.

  • A Bank of America lending executive says the revamp of a federal refinancing program threw some "curveballs" at the bank, Bloomberg reports.

  • European banks need more capital, recent stress tests show -- a sign that the debt crisis could worsen, The New York Times reports.

  • Large U.S. money market funds are taking money out of French banks, several of which had their ratings cut by Moody's this week, Bloomberg says.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

BB&T becomes official bank of the Big South

Winston-Salem's BB&T announced Thursday that it has become the "official financial institution partner" of the Big South Conference.

The athletic association includes a number of North Carolina colleges and universities, including UNC Asheville, Gardner-Webb University and High Point University.

The sponsorship gives the bank recognition on television, radio, in print, online and in the stadiums and arenas during conference games and events.

BB&T is already the official bank of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

BofA, Wells get top marks in LGBT equality measure

Both Bank of America and Wells Fargo earned top marks in a measure of workplace equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees, the Human Rights Campaign said Thursday.

The gay rights advocacy group puts together an annual "Corporate Equality Index" based on 40 policies or practices, including same-sex domestic partner benefits, gender-identity non-discrimination policies and transgender-inclusive health care coverage. The standards grow stricter every year, the HRC said.

This year's study rated 850 companies, including the entire Fortune 500. Bank of America and Wells Fargo received 100 percent scores, part of a total of 190 companies receiving the highest score. The banking and finance industry in general had high marks.

"Corporate America is leading the charge for equality in the workplace," HRC President Joe Solmonese said in a news release. "They understand that LGBT-inclusive workplace policies are the right thing to do and good business practices."

Morning roundup: Swipe fee caps hurting retailers?

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

  • Caps on the "swipe fees" merchants pay banks when customers pay with their debit cards - the government regulation that prompted banks to implement controversial debit card fees are hurting some merchants instead of helping them, the Wall Street Journal reports.
  • Shareholders might have to wait even longer for Bank of America and Citigroup to boost their dividends, according to MarketWatch.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Investment group withdraws bid for 500 million BofA shares

The mysterious investment group that sought to buy 500 million shares of Bank of America stock has withdrawn its offer.

IPIC Group Ltd., which did not name its officers and formed for the sole purpose of seeking the shares, announced in a press release Wednesday that it was terminating its offer. It cited the bank's recent downgrade from the Standard and Poors rating agency as the reason.

The group had made an offer to buy the shares for $6, a premium over a share price that closed at $5.89 on Wednesday. The all-cash deal could have been worth as much as $3 billion. It would have made IPIC the bank's largest institutional investor.

In a securities filing Tuesday, Bank of America warned shareholders not to tender their shares to the company, saying it posed "significant risks."

CFPB releases model credit card agreement

The fledgling Consumer Financial Protection Bureau today released a model credit card agreement that it hopes issuers will adopt.

The two-page document uses straightforward language, which the CFPB says should help both consumers and issuers.

The American Bankers Association released a short statement in response today, calling it a positive initiative but one that could be improved.

"For more than 20 years, the banking industry has strongly supported efforts to provide consumers with a short, easy-to-understand summary of their credit card agreement," chief counsel Kenneth Clayton said in the statement. "The model released by the Bureau is a good first step, but could be made even shorter, as well as less susceptible to costly lawsuits and the higher consumer prices that come from them."

Morning roundup: BofA was hours away from moving to New York in 2009

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

  • In a long-form account of former BNY Mellon CEO Robert Kelly's career, Fortune Magazine reports that Bank of America had offered Kelly the top job to succeed Ken Lewis. Kelly had accepted, contingent on a $15 million to $20 million annual salary and the bank's move to New York. But hours before the announcement was to be made, Kelly reconsidered and begged BNY's board to take him back.

  • Big banks want more leeway as the Volcker rule goes into effect to avoid "fire sales" of assets, Reuters reports.

  • Forbes magazine likens regulators to bad parents in their dealings with big banks, citing Bank of America as an example.

  • Google and Verizon are battling over mobile payment technology as the mobile "wallet" becomes more popular, the Wall Street Journal says.

  • "Too big to fail" banks are back on the Senate agenda today, Bloomberg reports.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

BofA to shareholders: Don't accept IPIC offer

Bank of America Corp. is urging stockholders to ignore a private investment firm's offer to buy as many as 500 million outstanding common shares, the bank said in a securities filing today.

The filing comes two weeks after Delaware-based IPIC Group Ltd. offered to buy the shares for $6 each in a deal that would make the group the Charlotte bank's largest institutional shareholder.

That represents a premium on Bank of America stock, which closed at $5.78 today, down a penny from the day before and down almost 60 percent for the year.

"Bank of America is not in any way associated with IPIC and recommends that stockholders do not tender their shares in response to this unsolicited mini-tender offer," the bank said in an 8K filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

It said the deal poses "significant risks" to shareholders. Mini-tender offers, which seek to buy less than 5 percent of a company's stock directly from current investors, aren't subject to the same federal disclosure and procedural requirements as other offers and therefore don't provide the same protection, the bank said.

IPIC said in a news release last month it would pay for the shares after its offer expires Dec. 23 - or, if fewer than 500 million shares are tendered by then, March 30. That means shareholders who agree to sell might lose control of their shares for several months and be unable to sell at a higher market price if the stock rises, Bank of America wrote.

The investment firm, which did not ask the bank's board of directors to approve the deal, has also not disclosed its executive officers, promoters or other information, the bank's filing said. As a result, shareholders might have a hard time tracking down their shares if the firm doesn't return the shares or complete the purchase, the bank said.

"Bank of America strongly urges shareholders to obtain current market quotes for Bank of America common stock, consult with their financial advisors, review the conditions to the offer and exercise extreme caution in evaluating this unsolicited offer," the bank's filing said.

Credit Union association lowers estimate on number of new customers

The Credit Union National Association has drastically lowered its estimates for how many new members it gained in October, shrinking the number it had trumpted as the anti-bank backlash and Bank Transfer Day movement spread across the country.

In the weeks leading up to the Nov. 5 social-media driven Bank Transfer Day, the association initially reported gaining 650,000 new members and $4.5 billion in new deposits.

But after a more scientific sampling of credit union data, the association revised the estimates. Now the figure for October is cited as 214,000. In September and October combined, CUNA now estimates 441,000 new members.

It's still significant. The September and October number represents about 75 percent of the growth in all of last year.

CUNA also reports 400,000 new checking accounts in October from existing members. Adding that number to the new member total gets the number close to the 650,000 figure in the intial survey.

The association says that the survey was intended to "provide a rapid response" and believes misinterpretation of the survey question led credit unions to include new checking account numbers as well.

BB&T names new Charlotte-based senior vice president

BB&T has named Steve Clement, who is based in Charlotte, as a new senior vice president responsible for strategy and special projects in the bank's Technology Services Department.

Clement joined the Winston-Salem based bank this year. The position is a new one.

Waccamaw Bank subject to Fed action

Long-struggling Whiteville-based Waccamaw Bank has been declared "critically undercapitalized" and must now either increase its equity through new shares or find a buyer, according to a Federal Reserve enforcement action made public Tuesday.

The bank has until Jan. 6 to become adequately capitalized, the action states. It's subject to a host of regulatory restrictions until then.

The bank also received a Fed enforcment action in June 2010, the StarNews in Wilmington reports, which directed the bank to strengthen mangagement and operations. Since then, the bank has sold branches to raise money.

The bank was recently delisted from Nasdaq after failing to file timely financial reports.

The bank does not have a presence in the Charlotte area, but has several locations in Southeastern North Carolina and in South Carolina.

Morning roundup: Evolving financial landscape

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

Monday, December 5, 2011

NewDominion hires two senior vice presidents

Charlotte-based NewDominion Bank announced Monday the hiring of two senior vice presidents to oversee the bank's commercial business.

Saeed Moghadam and Steve Kinzler both hold the title of senior vice president and commercial relationship manager. Moghadam will build business in Charlotte, while Kinzler will be responsible for developing business in the Lake Norman Area.

The new hires are the latest in a series of announcements as the bank rebuilds its management team. CEO John Hipp took over in November 2010 in the wake of a FDIC consent order, and in the next 12 months hired a new chief operating officer, chief credit officer and chief financial officer.

Moghadam was hired in November, and has previously wored at JP Morgan Chase, Fifth Third Bank and Bank of America in a 13-year career. He serves on a number of nonprofit boards in the Charlotte area.

Kinzler came to NewDominion the month before, after a 25-year career that has included positions at First Citizens Bank and Piedmont Bank. The N.C. State graduate is active in Lake Norman-area community organizations.

Morning roundup: Bank deposits could prove flighty

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

Friday, December 2, 2011

Morning roundup: Consumers and big banks

Here's what's happening in banking and finance news today:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

More from the Stumpf speech: Weighing in central bank action, citing big stats

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf spoke to about 3,000 employees in a Charlotte convention center ballroom this morning, causing little controversy in a congratulatory speech.

Here's more that wasn't in the Observer's main story.

In his speech:

  • Steps away from the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Stumpf used an extended stock car racing metaphor to praise his employees for its merger. After mentioning the Daytona 500, he called the last three years since the merger was announced the Wells Fargo 1000. And he compared several bank executives to NASCAR greats. "The names might not have been Earnhardt, and Allison and Petty," he said. "They were Kelly and Carroll and Shulte and Engel and Evans. Champions in their own right. Leading all of you, who are also champions."

  • On national employment: Stumpf said Wells Fargo has 270,000 employees, of which 265,000 are in the U.S. That means 1 in 500 working Americans are employed by the bank, Stumpf said. Wells is the 12th largest employer in the country.

  • On state employment: Wells is the second largest employer in North Carolina, Stumpf said, behind only Walmart. One in 150 working North Carolinians is a Wells employee. (I'm unsure if this is true. The ESC has Food Lion and Duke University also ahead of Wells.)

  • Wells has 5 billion "customer interactions" per year, meaning 10,000 each minute.

  • Wells Fargo has the largest United Way campaign out of all companies. Overall, it gave about $220 million to 19,000 organizations.

While talking to reporters afterward:

  • On several central banks' move to boost global liquidity: "I was not consulted, but I think it was a good idea... Clearly the marketlpace agreed." He said he does not know if the world is on the verge of another financial crisis, but that he hasn't seen many double-dip recessions. He said Wells does not have much European exposure.

  • On the upcoming federal stress tests and capital plans: Stumpf said the company already puts its balance sheet through stress tests and is not concerned. As far as capital, he said he is not concerned about meeting more stringent capital requirements. "In the modern Wells Fargo, we've never had so much capital.... Capital is not an issue."

  • As far as Charlotte employment, he said he's been careful not to give firm numbers. The number of employees in any area depends on business conditions. But: "We love Charlotte."

  • Stumpf said Wells has "settled or resolved" much of the legal risk inherited from Wachovia.

  • On potential acquisitions: "Never say never." But the bank has reached the legal threshold of exceeding more than 10 percent of the nation's deposit share in an acquisition. Wells might consider buying a "bolt-on business."

Morning roundup: "We are the 99 percent" sticks

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

  • Protesters at N.C. State University shouted down Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf during a speech in Raleigh Wednesday, the News & Observer writes.