Friday, March 30, 2012

Wells poised to return to "golden era"?

Wells Fargo & Co. has the earnings power in place to "recreate (the) prior golden era," Guggenheim Securities analysts said in a research note today.

The San Francisco-based bank, which bought Charlotte's Wachovia in 2008, consistently delivered earnings growth of about 10 percent per share before the financial crisis. That changed over the last four years - but the bank entered 2012 better off than it was at the end of 2007, the analysts wrote.

They predict big profits this year as Wells removes about $1 billion in quarterly operating expenses, deploys its liquidity into loan growth and benefits from an improving mortgage market, among other factors.

Shares, which are trading this afternoon around $34, could rise to $43, the analysts said.

"Over time, if management can replicate the prior era of consistent earnings per share growth, we expect WFC to produce 13 percent to 18 percent in annualized total shareholder returns," the note said.

Goldman bets on housing recovery

Welcome to the morning roundup. Here's a look at this morning's banking and finance news:

Betting on housing. Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which stayed afloat during the financial crisis by betting on a housing decline, is raising money for a new fund that will buy home-loan bonds to benefit from an improving real estate market, Bloomberg reports. The U.S. Housing Recovery Fund is expected to open April 1, according to a marketing document Bloomberg obtained.

Buffett's investments. Warren Buffett says distressed single-family homes are one of the best investment opportunities out there - but that the cost and logistics of making such an investment in a large enough size to matter for Berkshire Hathaway is prohibitive, Forbes writes.

Prepaid debt cards. Reuters' Felix Salmon discusses the evolution of prepaid debit cards. The cards are "huge right now," he writes - maybe because the Durbin act excluded prepaid debit cards from the caps on debit interchange fees imposed on other debit cards.

Credit downgrades. Ratings agency Moody's Investors Service said it will decide in mid-May whether to lower its ratings for 17 global financial companies, the New York Times reports. Morgan Stanley appears most vulnerable, and Citigroup and Charlotte-based Bank of America might also fall, but those two are helped by having higher-rated subsidiaries, the Times writes.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Charlotte exec joins Wells Fargo's management committee

Charlotte-based Eric Lloyd has been named Wells Fargo's chief market and institutional risk officer and will join the bank's management committee, the bank announced Thursday.

He previously was chief risk officer of Wells Fargo Securities.

Lloyd's role was previously held by David Julian, who recently was named chief auditor and became the second Charlotte-based executive to report directly to CEO John Stumpf.

Charlotte resident named head of Citi commercial banking in U.S.

Citigroup Inc. announced this week that William Howle, a Charlotte resident who spent time at Bank of America and Wachovia, has been named the head of commercial banking for the U.S.

The business unit has about 1,000 employees and has been helping the bank's initiative to improve retail and commercial operations around North America. The unit has increased its lending for six consecutive quarters, the bank said.

Most recently, Howle was the chief operating officer for commercial and consumer lending at Citi. He will remain in that role, Citi said.

Local governments pressured to battle banks

Welcome to the morning roundup. Here's a look at what's news in banking and finance.

Cities taking on banks. Local governments are facing increased pressure from residents to battle banks like Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, the Wall Street Journal says. A number of cities have considered resolutions to take money out of major banks and put them in smaller banks or create a municipal bank.

BofA stock may stall. Bank of America is expected to post strong fixed-income trading gains when it announces first quarter earnings in three weeks, but its overall earnings may not be enough to keep the bank's stock rallying past $10 per share, says. Wall Street has been looking for the bank to display strong core earnings growth.

Dallas Fed bashes TBTF. The annual report for the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas contains a scathing indictment of "Too Big To Fail" banks and calls for their breakup, ProPublica reports. That's quite unusual for a Fed branch. In fact, a New York Times piece today explores how the Federal Reserve came to be so beholden to special interests and the banking lobby.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

McColl family financial services firm leaves BofA Corporate Center

MBL Advisors, a boutique financial services firm bought by the McColl-Lockwood family in 2009, announced Wednesday that is leaving the Bank of America Corporate Center for a new office at 1017 E. Morehead St.

"The new space will accommodate our future growth plans and provide a more convenient destination for any visitor beyond walking distance of our current location,” Managing Principal Luther Lockwood said in a statement.

The firm, formerly known as Wachau Insurance Advisors, was founded in 1985 and owned by Wachovia from 1999 to 2009. After retiring as Bank of America CEO, Hugh McColl Jr. chaired a company that bought the firm, changing its name to MBL Advisors -- which stands for McColl Brothers Lockwood. Lockwood has been with the firm since 1996.

The firm advises businesses on mergers and acquisitions, executive compensation, business valuation and raising private capital.

Moynihan's letter to shareholders says bank is stronger, more customer-focused

In a letter to shareholders published Wednesday, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan touted the bank's efforts to build a "stronger, leaner company," though he acknowledges the bank's stock didn't fare so well and results were lower than expected.

He said the bank became more customer focused over the year, and became a better place for its employees to work.

The Charlotte bank posted net income of $1.4 billion for the year. Its stock price fell 58 percent, the worst performer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

"Obviously, our stock price does not yet reflect the work we are doing to strengthen capital, reduce risk and attract more business from our customers," Moynihan writes. "There are many issues weighing not only on us, but on the entire financial services industry."

He also claimed successes in areas where the public has found fault with the bank in the past year. Moynihan said the bank became more "customer-focused" in 2011, creating two chief operating officers to align with different segments of customers and overhauling products and services. He pointed to deposit balance increases in the retail business of $20 billion over the year as evidence of its success.

Moynihan also said the bank has modified 1 million mortgages since 2008, and is responsible for one in three modifications around the country.

And he also said Bank of America became a better place for employees to work, pointing to placement of thousands of employees in new positions to build skills and offering opportunities for them to weigh in on Project New BAC -- the streamlining initiative that involves 30,000 layoffs.

BofA seeks guidance on global strategy

Welcome to the morning roundup. Here's a look at today's banking and finance headlines:

BofA's global strategy. Charlotte-based Bank of America is assembling an international advisory board to guide CEO Brian Moynihan on global strategy, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing people familiar with the situation. The bank, long focused on efforts at home, is looking to boost access to markets around the world, the people told the Journal.

Foreclosure deal. Banks can count routine transactions - such as tearing down abandoned homes - as part of their new commitment to help people stay in their homes under the $25 billion foreclosure settlement, the New York Times writes. Critics say that gives big banks credit for practices they do every day.

Leadership change at Goldman? Senior executives at Goldman Sachs have talked about splitting the roles of CEO and chairman, sources told Reuters, though pressure for an immediate move appears to have eased after a deal with a labor union pension fund.

Overpriced stocks. One analyst says U.S. stocks are overpriced by 50 percent but that corporate buying is keeping them up, CNBC reports. Others are more optimistic about the markets' prospects.

Markets flat this morning. Stocks were little changed after orders for durable goods rose less than estimated and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said the recovery isn't assured, Bloomberg reports.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

1,000 protesters expected for BofA's annual meeting

Protest groups are planning to send more than 1,000 people to Charlotte in May to protest Bank of America during its annual shareholders meeting.

The May 9 meeting will bring investors and executives of the nation's second-largest bank to Charlotte to elect directors and vote on compensation.

A number of groups affiliated with the "99 percent movement" plan to use that as a platform to protest the bank, according to an announcement made Tuesday.

“People from all walks of life are planning to travel to Charlotte to protest Bank of America because they are fed up with the company putting profits before the health of our communities,” Amanda Starbuck, director of the Rainforest Action Network’s energy and finance campaign, said in a statement. RAN protests the bank's financing of coal projects.

Two other groups -- The New Bottom Line and Pushback Network -- that oppose the bank's foreclosure practices and other activities also plan to send protesters.

In January, several of these groups promised a "spring of discontent" in the weeks leading up to the meeting. The groups have protested the bank numerous times in the past few months. One in November led to eight arrests.

Capital Bank Financial to buy Winston-Salem-based bank

A bank holding company led by two former Bank of America Corp. executives announced today it is acquiring a Winston-Salem bank in its seventh deal since 2010.

Capital Bank Financial Corp. agreed to buy Southern Community Financial Corp., the parent company of Southern Community Bank and Trust, for about $2.88 per share. SCMF has $1.5 billion in assets and 22 branches in Winston-Salem, the Piedmont Triad and other N.C. markets. The company's shares were trading at $2.65 this afternoon, up from $1.96 at the close Monday.

The deal is subject to shareholder and regulatory approvals and is expected to close in the second quarter, Capital said in a news release today. After that, the company will have $8.1 billion in assets and 165 branches in the Carolinas, Tennessee, Virginia and Florida.

Southern Community, founded in 1996, controls the third-largest share of deposits in the Winston-Salem metro area. Chief executive F. Scott Bauer said Southern Community turned around its financial performance in 2011 but added that the merger "will make us stronger and more competitive, and that is rewarding for the many people who have been there for us during the good and the challenging times."

Former BofA executives Gene Taylor and Chris Marshall formed Capital - formerly North American Financial Holdings Inc. - in 2009 to buy troubled banks. In June, the company filed paperwork that could lead to an initial public offering that raises as much as $300 million.

BofA offers 401(k) for small businesses

Bank of America has introduced a new 401(k) program for small businesses. The Merrill Edge Small Business 401(k) costs less than many traditional plans, the bank said, allowing more business owners to set up retirement plans or provide the benefit to employees.

Most companies with less than 100 employees don't offer retirement plans, citing complexity, administrative burdens and cost as barriers, the bank said. Yet a recent Bank of America Merrill Lynch workplace benefits report found more than half of small business owners called retirement benefits a top tool for attracting and retaining employees.

The Merrill Edge Small Business 401(k) is self-serviced and managed online. The program also features web-based administration services, a streamlined investment menu and a platform for employees to manage their retirement investments.

Merrill Edge offers investment guidance and investing platforms for small businesses and "mass affluent" customers, those with between $50,000 and $250,000 in investable assets.

Charlotte-based credit union liquidated

Charlotte-based Shepherd’s Federal Credit Union was liquidated Monday after the National Credit Union Administration determined it was insolvent, the federal regulator announced Monday.

The credit union was chartered in 2010 to serve members and employees of Unity, the Way of Holiness Christian Church in Charlotte and Clarkton. It had deposits of about $379,000 and served about 1,400 members.

Deposits are insured up to $250,000. The NCUA will issue checks to members with their deposits within one week.

Members of Shepherd's can call the regulator's Consumer Assistance Center hotline at 800-755-1030 with questions.

It's the fourth credit union liquidation so far this year.

BofA's mortgage to lease program critiqued

Welcome to the morning roundup. Here's a look at what's news in banking and finance this morning.

Mortgage-to-Lease. Folks are still talking about the pilot program Bank of America announced last week that would allow struggling homeowners to remain in their houses by becoming renters. MSNBC notes that the program got nary a critique, but Business Insider lays out two main points of contention: that there is "no long-term path to ownership," and that it does nothing to solve the problem of too many foreclosures on the market.

Defensive regulators. Acting Comptroller of the Currency John Walsh defended regulators' independent foreclosure review process amid criticism that it is "too friendly to banks," according to Dow Jones Newswires.

Occupy still working. Remember Occupy Wall Street? They're still working, NPR's Morning Edition finds. Two work groups in particular are trying to take on the banking system. One is developing a mobile app that will help people switch bank accounts, while the other is a bit more ambitious: They want to acquire or partner with an existing bank to create a new type of bank that is democratic and upholds their ideals.

Taking profits. While still rating bank stocks "strong buys," Raymond James analysts are saying it's time to sell off a little Bank of America stock and take the profits, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Charlotte bank's stock is up nearly 80 percent so far this year.

Monday, March 26, 2012

NewDominion hires senior vice president

Continuing to build its management team, Charlotte-based NewDominion Bank announced Monday that it has hired Stuart Hester as a new commercial relationship manager and senior vice president.

Hester most recently worked for Bank of Commerce as its chief credit officer, where was hired in June 2011. He has also worked at First Community Bank and First Commerce Bank.

The Elon University alumnus has spent the last 15 years in the Charlotte market. He is originally from Matthews, but now lives in Gastonia.

JPMorgan wins decimal point lawsuit

Welcome to the morning roundup. Here's a look at today's banking and finance news.

JPMorgan wins decimal suit. JPMorgan Chase & Co. doesn't have to pay a trader after a missing decimal point in an employment contract led him to believe his salary would be 10 times what he was actually paid, Bloomberg reports. The Switzerland-based currency trader had sued the bank, claiming he signed a contract for 24 million rand (about $3.1 million). JPMorgan said there was a typo - the figure should have been 2.4 million rand.

Anger at Goldman. A prominent hedge fund seemed well positioned to capitalize on market turmoil before the financial crisis, but Copper River Partners soon went out of business. The firm blamed its broker, Goldman Sachs, recently in testimony that's part of an unrelated lawsuit, the New York Times writes.

Big bank profit. China Construction Bank Corp., which Charlotte's Bank of America owns a stake in, said Sunday its net profit rose more than 25 percent last year on higher interest income and commissions, the Wall Street Journal reports. BofA still owns 10 percent of the company, after selling a major stake last year.

Stocks rise. Stock index futures suggested big gains at the open after Ben Bernanke indicated the Fed would continue supportive monetary policies, even as the unemployment rate improves, Reuters reports.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Wells Fargo says gas price spike will hurt economy

Rising gas prices will hurt the U.S. economy as it continues to recover from recession, but it's not likely to be as bad as the spike in 2008 or in previous decades, Wells Fargo economists say in a research report released Friday.

As gas prices approach $4 per gallon around the country, consumers will again begin adjusting their behavior to dress fewer miles and cutting down on spending elsewhere. The transportation and airline industry will be dealt a serious blow.

But the fundamentals of the economy, while still weak, are more stable than they were in 2008 -- the last time gas prices spiked.

"Yes, there is a negative effect on the U.S. economy, but we estimate that it is not enough to generate a recession," the report says.

Trader sues JPMorgan after decimal error in contract

Welcome to the morning roundup. Here's a look at what's news in banking and finance this morning.

Decimal point lawsuit. A trader who entered into a contract with JPMorgan Chase is now suing the bank claiming that a decimal point error led him to believe he would be paid 10 times what the bank actually paid him, Bloomberg reports. The contract said the Switzerland-based currency trader would be paid 24 million rand, the equivalent of about $3.1 million. The bank says that was a mistake, and it should have been 2.4 million rand.

Cautious loan growth. U.S. banks are finally starting to increase their lending, but businesses are not very willing to spend the cash, the Associated Press reports. Most of the growth is in lines of credit, not traditional loans, and businesses are hanging on to the money.

Volcker delay. A group of lawmakers is supporting a bill that would delay implementation of the Volcker Rule, which bans proprietary trading, Bloomberg reports. That would give Congress more time to weigh whether it should be simplified or weakened.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bank of America piloting mortgage-to-lease program

Bank of America announced Thursday that it will pilot a program to turn distressed homeowners into renters in a few of the hardest-hit mortgage markets.

The mortgage-to-lease program would keep people in their homes and avoid foreclosure, while allowing the bank to forego the costly foreclosure process and keep a revenue stream coming in while homes are hard to sell.

“This pilot will help determine whether conversion from homeownership to rental is something our customers, the community and investors will support," said Ron Sturzenegger, who runs Bank of America's division that is handling troubled mortgages, in a statement. "This program may have the potential to further round out the broad set of solutions we offer our customers in need of assistance.”

Fewer than 1,000 people in Nevada, Arizona and New York will be asked to participate in the invitation-only pilot. They must be delinquent on their loans at least 60 days, have already gone through other foreclosure prevention options, and have enough revenue to cover a rent payment.

Bank of America will assume ownership of the home, and the homeowner's debt will be extinguished. The rent payment will be less than the mortgage payment was, and renters can stay in the home for up to three years. Property management companies will oversee the rental properties.

If the pilot succeeds, the Charlotte bank will explore broadening it.

Bank of America confirmed to the Observer last month that it was exploring such a program. Mortgage industry analysts said the plan was ambitious and doubted that such a program could expand nationwide.

BofA's Bessant speaks out against N.C. marriage amendment

In a YouTube video message, Bank of America global technology and operations executive Cathy Bessant speaks out against the controversial marriage amendment that will be on the ballot statewide this May.

The amendment -- called Amendment One -- would change the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. State law already does so, but supporters of the amendment say it is needed as added protection. Opponents say it discriminates against gay people.

In the two-minute video, Bessant says the amendment would have a "disastrous effect" on the state's ability to attract talent, and would signal that the state has a "backwards-looking economy."

"Amendment One is a direct challenge to our ability to compete nationally for jobs and economic growth," she says. "Large corporations hate this kind of controversy. They deal with diverse work populations for whom issues like this aren't just important in terms of where it is that they live, but are important indicators of the diversity and meritocracy in the companies where they want to work."

The video was published as part of a campaign by advocacy group Protect All N.C. Families, which opposes the amendment.

Bessant is a visible figure in Charlotte's business and nonprofit community.

BofA exec turns down promotion to leave bank

Welcome to the morning roundup. Here's a look at what's news in banking and finance this morning.

BofA shuffle. Bank of America emerging markets president and president of European credit card head Andrea Orcel is leaving the bank to take a job at UBS, the Wall Street Journal reports. Orcel turned down a promotion to be Bank of America's European president.

Twitter trouble. Wall Street banks are keeping a very tight leash on their use of Twitter, even as they begin wading into social media, The New York Times reports. Many are turning to start-up companies to help them manage their presences.

Banks in fashion. America's banks are "back in fashion," with stock prices steadily rising in 2012, and it could be a sign of an oncoming sustained bull market, Seeking Alpha says.

Smith Barney sale. Citigroup is open to selling its remaining stake in Smith Barney to Morgan Stanley, Blooomberg reports. Morgan Stanley has already bought a piece of the brokerage firm.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wall Street training firm expanding in Charlotte

Training The Street, which provides finance training for Wall Street firms and business schools, announced Wednesday that it is expanding its Charlotte office.

The new office, to be at 200 Providence Road, will be 35 percent larger than its current offices at 1300 Baxter Street.

It will allow the firm to serve its growing client base and have more space for its self-study library. The company's revenue grew by 25 percent last year, the announcement says.

"We have done a tremendous job growing our relationships with financial services corporations and business schools, which led us to lease this expanded space," Chief Financial Officer Robert Rostan said in a statement.

The firm is headquartered in New York City, but has a corporate office in Charlotte and satellite offices in Chicago, San Francisco, London and New Delhi.

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BofA sells Irish consumer credit card portfolio

Bank of America has agreed to sell its Irish consumer credit card portfolio to an Apollo Global Management LLC fund, the latest in the Charlotte bank's efforts to sell noncore businesses to raise capital.

Apollo will take on more than 200,000 cards that have a balance of more than 650 million euros. It will also acquire the 250 employees who serve the portfolio in Ireland. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The announcement follows a similar one in August, when Apollo purchased a Spanish consumer credit card portfolio from the bank.

The deal still must be approved by regulators.

JOBS Act could help community banks

The JOBS Act, which passed the U.S. House and could come up for a vote in the Senate this week, could help community banks raise money more cheaply and include more local investors, according to an analysis by legal firm Bryan Cave.

The bill is intended to help small businesses and start-up companies by making them exempt from some federal regulations guiding capital raising, including "crowdsourcing." Though it had brought bipartisan support in the House, some opponents have called it a financial deregulation bill that leaves investors open to fraud.

It's not designed for community banks, but it could help them. Under the terms of the bill, small banks could raise up to $2 million a year in small investments with "minimal legal cost and without needing to limit themselves to accredited investors," Bryan Cave writes. That could give it more local investors.

The threshold for small banks to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission would rise from 500 shareholders of record to 2,000 -- not including "crowdfunding" investors. It also raises the threshold for banks to unregister with the SEC, from 300 to 1,200.

Both these provisions would give community banks the opportunity to lower their costs by exiting SEC registration.

Wells, JPMorgan make 'bank honor roll'

Welcome to the morning roundup. Here's a look at what's news in banking and finance this morning.

Wells makes 'honor roll.' Wells Fargo was one of two major banks to make the Keefe, Bruyette and Woods "Bank Honor Roll," reports, along with JPMorgan Chase. The list is described as "beacons of growth in a growth-challenged industry" that have grown earnings even in a tough environment.

Bad loans. Big banks are doing a better job working out bad commercial real estate loans than their smaller counterparts, the Wall Street Journal says. Delinquency remains high, but banks with assets above $20 billion have gotten CRE rates down to 6.3 percent, from 10.3 percent in 2010.

Overseas growth. Will Bank of America be able to find growth overseas along with its S&P 500 brethren? The Motley Fool explores the question, noting that in 2006, 89 percent of the bank's revenue came from the U.S., compared with 79 percent in 2011.

Layoffs at BofA, Wells. Wells Fargo is laying off 315 in Santa Ana, Calif., as it closes a call center, according to the Orange County Register. Meanwhile, Bank of America is said to have laid off about a dozen capital markets workers in Canada as part of its cost-cutting initiative, Bloomberg reports. The bank still has about 500 in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

N.C. banks did better in 2011

North Carolina banks had a much better year in 2011 than they had the year before, new FDIC data show.

The state's banks posted $10.2 billion in net income in 2011, up 13 percent from the year before, according to a state banking summary published by the FDIC.

The state's banks also bolstered deposits by 5 percent to $1.3 trillion, raised their capital levels, and charged off a smaller percentage of bad loans. More banks grew their earnings, and fewer were unprofitable.

But the state's banks had a smaller yield on their earning assets and assumed more property through foreclosures. The total asset base shrunk 1 percent to $1.7 trillion.

Goldman should drop 'client-driven' banner, WSJ says

Welcome to the morning roundup. Here's a look at what's news in banking and finance this morning.

Goldman should drop 'client-driven' focus. In the wake of the now-infamous op-ed a departing Goldman Sachs banker wrote in The New York Times, the investment bank should drop its nominally "client-driven" focus and instead explain more clearly its motives and how it operates, a Wall Street Journal columnist opines. He says honesty could go a long way.

Wells moves up Q1 announcement. Wells Fargo will announce its first quarter earnings results at roughly the same time as JPMorgan Chase after traditionally being one of the last to report, a sign that the San Francisco bank wants to "set the tone" for the earnings season, Bloomberg says. It's an indication that the bank is confident that investors will be pleased with its report.

Wells Fargo limits participation in HARP 2.0. Wells Fargo, the country's largest mortgage lender, has decided to only participate in the Obama administration's new version of its refinancing program with loans it services, though it could refinance anyone's loan, according to left-leaning blog FireDogLake. The bank will also delay implementation of HARP 2.0 until April. FireDogLake calls this a "major setback" to the program.

BofA cutting equities staff. Bank of America is said to have laid off three energy analysts on its equities staff as it cuts expenses in its investment bank, Bloomberg reports.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bank of America stock cracks $10

Continuing its months-long surge, Bank of America stock topped $10 several times Monday, the first time the bank has crossed the threshold since Aug. 1.

It was only three months ago when the bank crossed a more negative threshold -- the $5 mark. The stock closed at $4.98 that day, though it reached as low as $4.92.

The bank's stock has improved nearly 80 percent so far in 2012. It's up 20 percent in only the past week.

The bank's stock had settled some Monday afternoon. It was up 1 percent on the day at $9.87 at 2:30 p.m.

Wall Street banks seek to become landlords

Welcome to the morning roundup. Here's a look at what's news in banking and finance this morning.

Wall Street landlords. Major Wall Street banks are bidding on pools of foreclosed homes owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, seeking to turn them into rentals before ultimately reselling them, the Wall Street Journal reports. The tactic could ultimately end up costing taxpayers if the bulk sales lead to significant discounts.

Stress tests aren't the end. Yes, most of the country's biggest banks passed the Federal Reserve's stress tests last week. But since capital requirements are on the verge of increasing nearly 60 percent, those results won't be the end of the pain for major banks, Bloomberg says.

2008 changed Wells. In a sit-down interview with the Los Angeles Times, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf says 2008, when the bank bought Charlotte-based Wachovia, "changed the landscape" of the company, but that the bank doesn't need to change its business model.

Treasury turns profit. The U.S. Treasury is expected to announce today that it made a $25 billion profit on its purchases of mortgage bonds, which began in September 2008, the Wall Street Journal reports. Last week, the Treasury sold the last of the bonds. The $25 billion is the largest profit the government has made on a program tied to the financial crisis.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Rolling Stone calls BofA 'Too Crooked To Fail'

The Rolling Stone's sprawling take-down of Bank of America is being cited in publications around the country as possibly the most critical piece on Bank of America in the bank's history.

While it has not generated the amount of attention that the now-infamous "Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs" op-ed that appeared in The New York Times earlier this week did, the magazine article, which mocks the bank's history and says the bank has tried to deceive every class of its customers, has sent its share of waves around the business and political world.

The article lampoons Bank of America and Wachovia's dueling skyscraper projects as a phallic arms race and dismisses Hugh McColl as a "strutting Southern peacock" determined to tear down the nation's banking laws. The piece also accuses the bank of "every kind of lending fraud imaginable" as it details the numerous allegations against the bank since the financial crisis.

It also passes blame to the government, which the author asserts bailed out the "admitted felon" numerous times.

Business Insider calls the piece "the harshest thing we've ever read about Bank Of America." Liberal outlet AMERICAblog called the piece a "must read," turning the issue political by calling President Bush and President Obama's support for the financial system an assault on the Constitution.

Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi has become known for this type of piece. Two years ago, he called Goldman Sachs a "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money."

Fierce Finance opined that this piece won't gain the same notoriety, but called it a distinctive take on the massive wave of lawsuits against the Charlotte bank.

Fifth Third names Charlotte businessman to affiliate board

Francisco Alvarado, owner and CEO of Charlotte-based Marand Builders Inc., has been named to the board of directors for Fifth Third Bank's North Carolina affiliate.

The board includes business leaders from around the region, including Brett Carter, president of Duke Energy North Carolina, and Jerry McGee, president of Wingate University.

Marand Builders is a general contractor focusing on commercial, retail, healthcare and institutional construction. Fifth Third has the fourth-largest deposit share in the Charlotte area, and 35 branches.

Rolling Stone: Bank of America 'too crooked to fail'

Welcome to the morning roundup. Here's a look at what's news in banking and finance.

Rolling Stone slams BofA. In an anticipated long-form piece, Rolling Stone magazine's Matt Taibbi calls Bank of America "too crooked to fail," saying the bank used lies and deception to take advantage of nearly every class of customer the bank has.

Buffett gives multi-million packages. Warren Buffett, who has made public statements condemning banker greed, gave executives in his organization multi-million dollar packages last year, Bloomberg reports. Critics say they make more than most bankers.

Stock up, bank quiet. Bank of America's stock crossed $9 Thursday for the first time since August. The Wall Street Journal says the bank has been aided by flying under the radar this week, a big week for banking news.

Whistleblower gets $18 million. A Florida attorney who uncovered mortgage fraud in a number of districts, including Charlotte, got an $18 million payday in the $25 billion mortgage settlement. Bloomberg tells more of her story, and counts up six whistleblowers who will receive $46.5 million total.

Living 'dead' man makes documentary. A man that Bank of America allegedly asked for his death certificate along with other mortgage modification documents has made a documentary about his experience, according to a press release from PR Web.

Wall Street's recruiting problem. Wall Street firms, long a staple on college campuses in spring, now has a recruiting problem, The New York Times says. This week's op-ed from a departing Goldman Sach's vice president, which reverberated across the financial world, didn't help.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Former Bank of America exec Joe Price joins Habitat board

Long-time Bank of America executive Joe Price has been elected to the Habitat for Humanity International board of directors, the Atlanta-based nonprofit announced Thursday.

Price had most recently served as head of the bank's consumer and small business banking, and had also spent time as chief financial officer in an 18-year career with the bank, before leaving in a management shakeup in September. He lives in Charlotte.

“Having decent affordable housing is at the core of building communities and serves as the foundation for every family’s well-being,” Price said in a statement. “Habitat for Humanity continues to be a catalyst for addressing housing issues around the globe and I can’t imagine serving a better organization in its efforts.”

The 24-member board includes numerous business leaders, including the chief financial officer of Delta Airlines and the chief information officer at TD Bank.

Credit union league to build Levine rooftop playground

Credit union organizations announced Thursday that they will join the Democratic National Convention committee to build a rooftop playground at the Levine Children's Hospital.

Led by the Carolinas Credit Union Foundation, the 12th-floor roof will be turned into a space with a deck and pavilion and outdoor play equipment and have a light and color "bubble wall."

“An opportunity like this is a perfect example of why we worked to bring the convention to the city of Charlotte," Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx said in a statement. After all the crowds are gone, projects like this and the impacts they have on Charlotte’s families, will define the legacies that the convention will leave.”

The Carolinas Credit Union Foundation will lead the $300,000 fundraising push. The N.C. Credit Union League, S.C. Credit Union League, Washington publication National Journal and several other organizations are sponsors.

Construction will begin this spring. The ribbon cutting will be the week of the convention, beginning Sept. 3.

Goldman Op-Ed fuels debate

Welcome to the morning roundup. Here's a look at today's banking and finance headlines:

Goldman fires back. The New York Times takes a closer look at the fallout of Goldman exec Greg Smith's blistering Op-Ed farewell. That account renewed a debate Wednesday on whether Wall Street was corrupted by greed and excess.

More on Goldman. The former chairman of American International Group Inc. told Bloomberg a "change in culture" made Goldman less responsive to clients.

Stress test troubles. Citigroup's failure to meet the Federal Reserve's minimum capital requirements by some measures - which means it can't return capital to shareholders as planned - dealt a blow to CEO Vikram Pandit, the Wall Street Journal reports. It's reminiscent of Bank of America's troubles last year, when the Fed rejected the Charlotte lender's request for to raise its dividend.

Whistleblowers cash in. The people who revealed major mortgage abuses - risking their careers to do so, in some cases - are cleaning up with multimillion-dollar payouts, Reuters reports.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stress tests: Good news for strong banks

Analysts and investors are still digesting the results of the Federal Reserve's latest stress tests, revealed in a surprise announcement Tuesday afternoon. Many agreed JPMorgan Chase & Co. - which released its passing grade ahead of the Fed - was the biggest winner, with Wells Fargo & Co. and other banks performing well, too.

Here are some early reactions:

Keefe, Bruyette & Woods analysts said the results cleared the way for the strongest banks, including San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, which bought Charlotte's Wachovia in 2008, to raise dividends higher than many expected.

Aside from the four banks that failed to meet the Fed's minimum capital requirements by some measures, "other announcements were generally in line with expectations," analysts said.

JPMorgan, which passed Bank of America Corp. as the nation's largest lender by assets "far exceeded" KBW's predictions, with its nickel-per-share quarterly dividend increase and $15 billion stock repurchase plan, above the $10 billion analysts expected. Wells Fargo's dividend increase, to 22 cents per share, was higher than those analysts forecast, they said.

Overall, though, KBW doesn't predict a continued market surge on the Fed results.

Robert W. Baird & Co. analyst David George said the test highlighted the largest banks' strength but wondered, "Now what?"

"Though results were better than expected for some names, we do not expect another fierce rally in these stocks today," he wrote in a research note. Instead, he said, investors' focus will return to banks' core earnings power.

George said Charlotte-based Bank of America performed better than analysts expected, while Wells Fargo and Winston-Salem's BB&T were among those lenders in line with expectations.

Bank of America's "ability to pass the stress tests/market shock scenarios is an incremental positive for shares, given lingering concerns about the company's credit risk, mortgage putback exposure and depressed earnings power," he said. "Greater confidence in the company's capital position should limit downside for shares."

Guggenheim Securities analysts said the Fed results represent a positive for stronger banks, buying them "political credibility and the ability to return more capital to shareholders."

The news is good for the overall U.S. financial system, too, sending a political message that banks are strong and recovered, Guggenheim said. That could lessen pressure from lawmakers on regulators to impose strict capital requirements - but it could also lead the government to demand banks do more to help distressed homeowners and other customers, analysts said.

Meanwhile, the stress tests could change the way bank leaders manage their companies, despite important limits to what the test can actually tell people about a bank's health.

"With stress testing becoming an annual event, the pressure will be on every bank to manage to the test to ensure they pass," the analysts wrote. "This is because anytime anyone from a bank that failed the test testifies, they will have to explain why they are not at risk of imminent collapse. No one will want to fail going forward."

Wells Fargo rescues former racehorses

Wells Fargo has released a new video describing how one of the bank's employees rescues former racehorses and trains them to pull its signature stagecoaches.

The bank says that stagecoach driver Dan Cramer, who is based in the Northwest, rescues about 150 horses per year. Racehorses generally retire young, and then are often sold, sometimes for slaughter.

Here's the video:

Former Panther's private-equity firm announces key hires at Wild Wing Cafe

Wild Wing Cafe, the restaurant chain acquired by former Carolina Panther Muhsin Muhammad's private-equity firm this year, has tapped two industry veterans for key roles.

Charlotte-based Axum Capital Partners announced Bill Prather, former chief executive of Hardee's and executive vice president and head of worldwide operations for Burger King, will become Wild Wing's new CEO. David Leonardo, a former Wendy's, Arby's and Burger King executive who has also worked in investment banking for JPMorgan Chase & Co., will join the company as chief development officer.

"Our ability to quickly add a strong and experienced CEO such as Bill, who has a national view of the restaurant business, to the Wild Wing team reflects Axum's vision for creating value within our portfolio companies and effectively executing our firm's investment strategy," said Muhammad, who played pro football for 14 seasons before jumping into private equity.

Mount Pleasant, S.C.-based Wild Wing, which generated $100 million in sales last year, operates 11 company-owned and 22 franchised restaurants in seven states. Axum acquired a controlling stake in the company in January, the firm's first deal.

Axum, which targets lower middle-market businesses in the food and beverage and educational services sectors, is evaluating other deals, its partners have said. The firm's target fund size is $100 million to $150 million, with about five to seven companies in its portfolio.

Wells using Twitter to explain Duke Energy Center lights

Why was the Duke Energy Center lit up in green this weekend?

Wells Fargo, which owns the iconic building on South Tryon Street, has set up a Twitter account to let people know why it is shining in a particular hue. (The answer to the question, by the way, is to celebrate the local Girl Scout council's celebration of 100 years of Girl Scouting.)

The building, which opened in 2010, regularly changes colors based on national or local events. This month, it has been red, white and blue for a Charlotte Checkers' "Salute to Heroes" game, and blue and orange for Bobcats games.

The lights and its distinctive slanted roof have made it possibly the most distinctive skyscraper in the city. It was originally to be a new Wachovia tower, but instead became Duke Energy's new headquarters when the Charlotte bank was sold to Wells Fargo in 2008. Duke now leases 22 floors.

Wells Fargo's account is actually the second to embody the tower on Twitter. A more profane version, known as CLT Voltron, launched late last year. It pokes fun at the bank and Duke Energy and in recent days has playfully opposed the new account.

(Photo is from Wells Fargo's new Twitter account)

Guilford County sues Bank of America, Wells

Welcome to the morning roundup. Here's a look at what's news in banking and finance this morning.

Guilford County sues banks. Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen has sued Bank of America, Wells Fargo and several other banks over alleged forged mortgage documents and use of embattled registration system MERS, the Greensboro News & Record reports. A spokeswoman for the registration system calls the complaint political rhetoric. A number of banks agreed Tuesday to pay New York state $25 million after being sued over their use of the system, Bloomberg reported.

Stress test reaction. The biggest news Tuesday was the release of the Federal Reserve's stress tests on 19 major banks, which both Bank of America and Wells Fargo passed. Reuters has a roundup this morning of the key points made and some analysts comments. Seeking Alpha ponders whether the results will give BofA's shares a boost in the coming days.

Public goodbye. A Goldman Sachs banker had a very public departure this morning, announcing that he was quitting in an op-ed in The New York Times, calling the atmosphere "toxic and destructive." Goldman is already fighting back, the Wall Street Journal says.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

BB&T passes stress test, to increase dividend

BB&T announced Tuesday that it passed its federally mandated stress test and will boost its dividend 25 percent.

The dividend will now stand at 20 cents per share, up from 16 cents.

"We are pleased to provide this substantial dividend increase to our shareholders and are committed to a robust dividend payout," CEO Kelly King said in a statement. "We continue to be one of the strongest capitalized institutions in the industry and believe our 2012 capital actions confirm that strength and our commitment to our shareholders."

The Federal Reserve also did not object to the bank's plan to redeem $3.2 billion in trust preferred securities, a form of long-term subordinated debt similar to preferred stock.

News of the stress test results began trickling out Tuesday afternoon, after J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. announced that it had passed and would increase its dividend.

Reports: Bank of America passes stress test

Bank of America has passed its federally mandated stress test, sources tell the Wall Street Journal.

Results of the tests began leaking out Tuesday afternoon after J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. said it had passed and would raise its dividend 20 percent and buy back $15 billion worth of stock.

Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan has said publicly that the bank did not ask for authorization to raise dividends or buy back shares.

Check for more details in the coming hours.

Community banks seek to limit credit unions

A community bank trade association that represents a number of small Charlotte-area banks has made limiting credit unions a top lobbying priority this year.

The Independent Community Bankers of America released its policy priorities at a convention this week. The organization spent about $3.7 million on lobbying last year.

One of its goals this year is "urging Congress to address the unfair tax and regulatory disparity between taxpaying community banks and tax-exempt credit unions, while opposing further credit union 'mission creep,'" according to the announcement.

Credit unions, which have increasingly become bank-like in recent years by offering more products and technology, unfairly benefit from their tax advantage, the ICBA says.

"At a time of record federal budget deficits, every dollar of revenue counts," the statement reads.

BB&T renews bid to buy BankAtlantic

BB&T has upped the price of its acquisition of Florida-based BankAtlantic to get past the objections of a judge.

The Winston-Salem bank will still take on $2.1 billion in loans and $3.3 billion in deposits, and it will still pay a roughly $300 million premium. Distressed assets will still largely stay with BankAtlantic.

But BB&T will now take on a class of securities that it had originally hoped to leave behind at BankAtlantic.

"The improving economy in Southeast Florida makes this acquisition even more compelling," BB&T CEO Kelly King said in a statement. "We believe this amendment to our original agreement fully addresses litigation obstacles and allows the transaction to move forward."

A Delaware judge blocked the purchase last month, objecting to the structure because BB&T would not take on about $285 million in trust preferred securities, a form of long-term subordinated debt. The judge said any acquisition would have to include that class of securities.

BB&T will now acquire those securities. In exchange, the bank will get 95 percent preferred interest in a $500 million pool of loans that was originally to stay with BankAtlantic. Half of the loans are performing, and BB&T expects to recover $350 million from them.

If approved, the acquisition will bump BB&T up to No. 6 in the Miami market. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter.

More brokers leaving Merrill Lynch

Welcome to the morning roundup, a look at this morning's banking and finance headlines.

Brokers out at Merrill Lynch. At least 50 financial advisors who managed nearly $12 billion in client assets have left the firm this year, Reuters reports. Many were veterans at Merrill, which Charlotte-based Bank of America bought in 2009. Their departures - which some blame on the pressure to cross-sell BofA products - could impact the bottom line.

Bond market revival. The bond market, one of Wall Street's most important profit generators, is improving, the Wall Street Journal reports. Traders and bankers are optimistic about the future, citing rising appetites for borrowing and investing, after a dismal 2011.

New way to profit on housing? Bloomberg details private-equity firms' new approach to capitalizing on the housing crash. Instead of flipping cheap houses, some firms are betting that converting foreclosures into rentals is a better strategy.

BofA stock could fall. Traders say banks most exposed to consumer credit - including Bank of America - are at the greatest risk as the Federal Reserve releases stress test results this week, CNBC reports.

Stock market boost. U.S. markets rose this morning after a solid retail sales report, TheStreet writes.

Monday, March 12, 2012

$25 billion mortgage settlement formally filed

After weeks of delay, the $25 billion mortgage settlement between the five largest servicers and a consortium of state attorneys general was filed in federal court Monday.

Banks' annual reports had already laid out some of the details of the blockbuster agreement, but the formal document provides more information on the mechanics of the settlement announced last month.

North Carolina's take is $338 million in the settlement, the majority in the form of principal reduction or other help for struggling homeowners.

Check in the next few hours for more details.

Read more here:

Rowan County bank changes name after merger

Community Bank of Rowan, which had two locations in the county, will now operate under the name VantageSouth after its parent company merged it with another bank the company controls, according to an announcement Monday.

The new VantageSouth has four branches in Rowan and Alamance counties, and another branch is in the works in Fayetteville.

Raleigh private equity group Piedmont Community Bank Holdings Inc. bought the Rowan bank in a cash deal last April. It previously owned a majority stake in VantageSouth.

Late last year, the parent company announced a plan to buy the remaining VantageSouth stock at $4.35 per share and merge the two banks.

The merger closed in February.

Banks increasingly calling in small business loans

Welcome to the morning roundup. Here's a look at what's news in banking and finance this morning.

Calling in loans. Banks are increasingly calling in loans to small businesses in North Carolina as falling real estate prices have reduced the value of collateral, The News and Observer reports. That frequently leaves the businesses scrambling to make a balloon payment.

Buying Treasuries. Banks have bought more in U.S. Treasury bills and notes so far this year than they did all of last year, Bloomberg reports. Hesitant to lend, they're using the spread between the overnight loan rate and the Treasury rate to make money.

Stress tests to show improvement. The stress tests now being finalized by the Federal Reserve are expected to show that banks have significantly improved their balance sheets, The New York Times says, a big improvement from the tests in 2009.

Wells likely to increase dividend. Wells Fargo is poised to be among the leaders of its peers in increasing dividends and stock buybacks as the Federal Reserve finishes those stress tests, Bloomberg says. About $9 billion total is expected to be released.

Insider trading alleged. A lawyer for a group of banks involved in litigation against MBIA accuses the MBIA chief executive of insider trading, The New York Times reports. The bond insurer says the claims were false, and all of the CEO's trades were approved.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Writer discusses Wall Street follies, housing troubles

The financial crisis was largely a result of "folly and misguided views and hubris" on Wall Street, rather than criminal action, a Wall Street Journal reporter told a crowd of business leaders today.

Gregory Zuckerman spoke to the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club this morning about the financial meltdown, his economic concerns going forward and his book "The Greatest Trade Ever," the story of a trader who made billions betting against the housing market.

In response to a question about whether more people should be in jail following the crisis, Zuckerman said plenty of bankers deserved blame but that their mistakes weren't necessarily crimes. He compared firms that sold risky securities while also betting against them to a retailer who sells a customer a pink suit without recommending otherwise. It might be two-faced, he said, but it's not illegal.

Going forward, Zuckerman said he's worried about Japan's debt and China's slowing population growth, which could lead to a "massive falloff in cheap labor" over the next 20 years. He also predicts a boom in the energy sector.

Near the end of the presentation, someone asked what advice he would give to consumers caught up in the mortgage crisis. Zuckerman said many buyers didn't read the fine print on their loan documents or relied too much on the word of their bankers, who assured them they could easily refinance or resell if needed.

"Read the documents," he said. "And have a little skepticism."

Bank of America releases Kindle Fire, Android tablet apps

Bank of America has released new apps designed for the Android tablet and Kindle Fire, the latest frontier in the bank's burgeoning mobile banking business.

Many companies have entered the tablet app market by simply pushing its smartphone app to the larger screen. But Bank of America's new apps are specifically tailored for the tablet experience, with more information to take advantage of the larger screen, said Marc Warshawsky, mobile channel executive at Bank of America based in Charlotte. He said the bank is the first to develop an Android tablet app.

"Customers really do value an experience that is tailored to the device they're working on," Warshawsky said. "You can see more on a tablet, and you want things to be set up to take advantage of that."

The new apps piggyback on the success the bank has had with smartphones. Bank of America's Android smartphone app has more than 5 million downloads, and its iPhone app millions more.

All told, the bank has about 9.5 million mobile banking customers. CEO Brian Moynihan told investors Thursday that about 50,000 were signing up each week.

The new apps also follow the launch of an iPad app in April.

The nation's biggest banks are increasingly piling into the mobile banking space, with tablets being the latest development. Citi also announced a Kindle Fire app this week.

Here's a look at the new apps. The Android tablet:
And the Kindle Fire:

Banks foreclosing on churches in record numbers

Welcome to the morning roundup. Here's a look at what's news in banking and finance.

Church foreclosures. Banks are foreclosing on churches across the U.S. at a record pace, data show, Reuters reports. Last year, 138 churches were sold by banks, a record annual number, and much higher than the 24 sales in 2008. Small to medium-sized churches in Georgia, Florida, Michigan and California have been hit the worst. Many of the banks end up being bought by other churches.

Side deal. Bank of America has reached a separate mortgage deal with states and federal agencies that will provide deeper principal reductions for about 200,000 underwater homeowners, the Wall Street Journal reports. The deal, which will allow the bank to avoid $850 million in penalties, will reduce the loan amount down to the value of the home. The broader settlement has banks reducing loan amounts to 120 percent of the home's value.

Perpetual TARP. While the big banks like Bank of America have long since paid back the money received as part of the TARP program, some smaller institutions may never pay back the bailout money, according to the GAO, the Wall Street Journal reports. About 350 banks, most of them smaller, remain in the program. The government has already turned a profit on TARP, however.

Bank documents to be unsealed. A batch of documents related to a lawsuit by Overstock against Bank of America and Goldman Sachs will be unsealed after a judge's order, Bloomberg reports. The company alleges that the banks manipulated its stock price. The documents will detail transactions that could contain fraud or risky actions.

BofA could be sued in embezzlement case. The city of Seattle may end up suing Bank of America after a city employee took $1.1 million worth of checks made out to the city and deposited them into his own account, the Huffington Post reports. The city did not due business with Bank of America.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Citizens South hires commercial lender in Charlotte

Gastonia-based Citizens South Banking Corp. announced Thursday that it has hired a new lender in its Charlotte office.

Kevin T. Kennelly, Jr., a Charlotte native, will bolster the bank's relationships with commercial clients in multiple industries, the bank said.

Kennelly is a University of Virginia graduate and holds a graduate degree in banking from the University of Pennsylvania.

He previously worked as a commercial lender at Park Sterling Bank.

Wells Fargo adds 100,000 health savings accounts

Wells Fargo announced Thursday that it added 100,000 health savings accounts last year, a record 38 percent increase and double the number added by Bank of America.

The bank now has 320,000 customers and 10,000 companies around the U.S. who use its accounts, which come through the bank's benefits services group.

Health savings accounts let employees set aside pre-tax dollars to be used for medical expenses. They earn interest, stay with an employee through job changes and roll over year-to-year. Employers will often make contributions to a worker's account.

The accounts have become more popular as health care costs continue to climb and businesses shift more of the responsibility for health care costs to employees.

Wells Fargo's announcement mirrors that of Bank of America, which said last month it had record health savings account growth in 2011. The Charlotte bank added 50,000 accounts, a 34 percent increase.

Bank of America to foster female leadership in developing countries

On International Women's Day, Bank of America announced a new partnership that will train and mentor women leaders in developing countries.

The program with Washington D.C.-based Vital Voices Global Partnership will bring high-profile executives to meet with and mentor women in countries like Haiti, India and South Africa, according to Thursday's announcement.

A group of mentors, including Bank of America marketing executive Justine Metz and actress Maria Bello, flew to Haiti last week to work on skills and planning for helping the country rebuild.

Vital Voices was founded by Hillary Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 1997. It has mentored more than 10,000 women in 144 countries.

International Women's Day has been observed in the U.S. since 1909, following a declaration by the Socialist Party of America, and focused on working women. It has since evolved into a national holiday in many countries and is used to highlight workplace inequality.

Google has changed its signature doodle for the day in observance, and the day is trending on Twitter.

Complaint: BofA defrauded mortgage-help program

Welcome to the morning roundup. Here's a look at today's banking and finance headlines.

BofA and HAMP. Bank of America Corp. prevented homeowners from receiving mortgage modifications under a federal program in order to avoid big losses - while benefiting from incentives for participating, according to a whistle-blower complaint unsealed in federal court this week, Reuters reports.

Merrill advisors benefiting from BofA merger? Forbes says the negatives outweigh the positives and that Bank of America just doesn't get it.

Rising markets. Stocks climbed this morning as Greece moved closer to completing its debt swap, Bloomberg reports. Meanwhile, jobless claims rose, but economists say the level is consistent with an improving job market.

Housing woes continue. Home sales have beat expectations, but prices are still falling as foreclosures and distressed sales continue. That means the market - and the broader economy - are not yet out of the woods, the New York Times writes.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Cary Street Partners hires managing director in Charlotte

Investment banking and wealth management firm Cary Street Partners announced Tuesday that it has hired a new managing director in its Charlotte office.

Brett N. Bond will serve in the investment bank, focusing on middle market industrial businesses. Prior to this, Bond was a managing director and co-founder of Triarch Partners LP, and a director at Wachovia Securities before that.

Cary Street Partners is based in Richmond, Va., but has offices across the Southeast.

Wave of mergers could be forthcoming

Welcome to the morning roundup. Here's a look at what's news in banking and finance this morning.

Mergers. After one of the slowest M&A years in recent memory, banking industry experts speculate that mergers could become more prevalent in the coming months, Reuters reports. That would be a boon to investment bankers and consultants.

Layoffs. Bank of America is laying off 62 in Jacksonville, Fla., as the bank exits its Client Research and Resolutions Services division there and in San Francisco, according to the Daily Record. Work is being moved to Utica, N.Y., Dallas and Los Angeles.

Payday loans. Consumer groups are calling on banks like Wells Fargo and Fifth Third to stop offering products that resemble payday loans, which offer short-term cash with high interest rates, CNN reports. The groups consider the loans predatory.

Android app. Bank of America has released a new Android app customized for the tablet, reports.

Cash. Ever wonder where Bank of America gets its cash? The Motley Fool explains in a video.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Group wants to make Charlotte a payment hub

A new group of bankers, businessmen and entrepreneurs hopes to turn Charlotte into a nationally recognized hub for the payment industry.

The Charlotte Payments Initiative, also known as PayCLT, held an introductory meeting Monday evening at entrepreneurship incubator Packard Place. About 50 people turned out, representing banks, payment processors, start-ups and city economic development officials.

While its mission is still being developed, the initiative's broad goal is to mobilize the payment community, attract industry leaders to relocate or expand in the Queen City, foster new companies and become an educational resource.

Especially as the city's big banks trim back, the group hopes to provide more opportunities for payment workers who would much rather stay in Charlotte than move to New York.

PayCLT is headed by Raja Bose, a former Bank of America executive who led an emerging payments and mobile product group. He now does consulting work.

He defined the payments industry as larger than just transactions, but also demand generation, consumer behavior and other commerce activities.

The industry is particularly in flux as developments in technology provide new opportunities. PayPal has already left an indelible mark, and new companies like Square seek to capitalize on the flattening influence of technology.

The group hopes to follow the lead of a similar initiative started last year in the energy industry. Known as CLT Joules, the fledgling organization has already started a build-out of 6,000-square-feet of office space in Packard Place. Three companies have already agreed to locate there in the first quarter.

Pace of Dodd-Frank rulemaking slows

Welcome to the morning roundup. Here's a look at today's banking and finance headlines.

Dodd-Frank rules slow. The pace of rule-writing by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has slowed drastically, less than halfway through the process of implementing the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, Bloomberg reports. The holdup is dragging out a period of uncertainty for the financial firms affected.

Bank of America layoffs just beginning? The Charlotte bank's headcount is virtually unchanged from the end of 2009 - suggesting the 30,000 planned layoffs have barely begun, TheStreet writes.

The election and the economy. The recovery is progressing differently in the 10 Super Tuesday states, CNNMoney writes. Take a look at how each state's economy stacks up, from unemployment rates to median household incomes.

U.S. stocks fall. Stocks slipped 1 percent at the open today as investors worried Greece and private bondholders might not meet a deadline to complete a debt swap - and as broader concerns about the global economy continued, Reuters reports.

Something sleazy about finance? A Bloomberg opinion piece discusses human nature and high-dollar jobs - and says finance isn't as amoral as it might seem.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Has Bank of America's surge ended?

Bank of America's surging stock has cooled in the past few weeks -- and its rapid growth may now have come to an end, analysts with investment firm Stifel Nicolaus say in a research note today.

The Charlotte bank started the year on a torrid pace. After finishing 2011 as the Dow Jones Industrial Average's worst performer, the bank quickly became the index's leader and had grown nearly 50 percent for the year.

While the bank's stock is still up more than 40 percent on the year, it's been relatively flat over the past month. On Monday afternoon, the stock was at $7.97, the same price it closed at Feb. 6.

The Stifel Nicolaus analysts note that the stock has stagnated since breaking $8 a share in early February. They attributed the early-year rise to a calm in investor fears that the bank would have to issue more stock to raise capital.

They say the bank's future stock price will be driven by earnings power, which the bank has struggled with in the past few quarters. While it reported profitability in 2011 and in the fourth quarter, the figures were clouded by a number of one-time gains and losses.

"With capital levels seemingly no longer the primary issue, we think it will be harder for the shares to outperform in the face of what we believe are lower earnings expectations that are forthcoming," the analysts wrote.