Thursday, August 30, 2012

Bank of America makes fee disclosures simpler

Bank of America has joined a growing number of its peers adopting a simpler checking account fee disclosure form advocated by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The new two-page forms are a great deal less complex than the sprawling disclosure forms customers once needed to wade through.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has considered making some forms mandatory. Some Senate Democrats have also pushed banks to adopt the forms.

JPMorgan Chase was the first big bank to sign on, in December. Citigroup, Capital One and Fifth Third have also started using the model, Pew said.

Romney not likely to repeal Dodd-Frank, but banks like that

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

Banks like Romney on Dodd-Frank. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has vowed to repeal Dodd-Frank. He won't, Bloomberg says, but Wall Street likes that better. Romney is more likely to rework some pieces of the financial reform legislation, keeping the parts banks like but also allowing them to avoid restrictions on risky behavior.

Should big banks be afraid? Big banks and their executives should be afraid of the growing chorus of voices on the right and the left that the financial behemoths should be broken up, New York Times Economix blogger Simon Johnson says today. Execs have increasingly been called on to defend the universal bank model, but Johnson posits that their arguments are weak. And now even Republicans are moving against the big-bank model.

New Barclays CEO. Barclays has named its retail banking head, Antony Jenkins, to take over the CEO role following the resignation of Bob Diamond after the Libor-rigging settlement, the Wall Street Journal reports. He says his first role will be to restore the bank's reputation and relationships with regulators.

Unusual BofA suit. Bank of America has asked a judge to throw out a shareholder suit alleging that the bank concealed a $10 billion suit from AIG, Reuters reports. The AIG case is still pending. Bank of America argues it disclosed enough.

Citigroup settles with shareholders. Citigroup has agreed to pay $590 million to shareholders to settle a lawsuit that claimed the bank hid its exposure to subprime loans, BBC News reports. Bank of America and Wells Fargo have already settled similar claims.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mortgage settlement monitor releases first report

UPDATE, 10:45 a.m. Here's our first take on how North Carolina has been affected.

The monitor of the $25 billion mortgage settlement involving Bank of America, Wells Fargo and three other big banks has released his first report, showing that banks have reported providing $10.5 billion in relief to homeowners.

The report from former N.C. banking commissioner Joseph Smith notes that the figures are unaudited. But it provides the first look at what's been done in North Carolina, and what Bank of America and Wells Fargo have offered their customers.

We'll have more updates as we parse the report.

Click here to read the report.

Will Wells Fargo soon face more public scrutiny?

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

More scrutiny for Wells? As Wells Fargo gains share in retail banking and continues its mortgage dominance, the bank could face a step-up in media scrutiny, Fierce Finance says, something neighbor Bank of America is all too familiar with.

Chinese banks lend in America. China's largest banks are increasingly making loans to U.S. companies, the Financial Times reports, as their American counterparts continue to tread carefully. The Chinese share of the syndicated loan market reached 6.1 percent his year, up one percentage point from last year. Clients include UPS, General Electric, Disney and Caterpillar.

Paulson soothes BofA. In case you were wondering how that John Paulson-Bank of America wealth management phone call went yesterday, it apparently went well. The Wall Street Journal says that the hedge fund manager acknowledged recent struggles but said the fund hasn't seen a dramatic outflow of customers and that they are committed to earning back money lost.

OWS isn't over. Nope, Occupy Wall Street isn't over. The group is planning to celebrate it's one-year anniversary in New York City by blocking cars in the financial district on Sept. 17 and ringing the New York Stock Exchange, Bloomberg reports.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Former First Charter CEO, Fifth Third exec joins Grant Thornton

Bob James, the former CEO of Charlotte-based First Charter Corp. who became North Carolina market president at Fifth Third after his bank's acquisition, is now joining Grant Thornton in Charlotte as banking industry senior advisor, the firm announced Tuesday.

James became CEO of First Charter in 2005 and helped grow it into a $1 billion bank. It was acquired by Cincinnati-based Fifth Third in 2008, which named James market president. James left his day-to-day position at Fifth Third late last year.

James has 38 years experience in banking.

Bank of North Carolina's bailout money sold at discount

The bailout investment the U.S. Treasury still held in BNC Bancorp has been sold at a discount, the U.S. Treasury said.

The $31.3 million in Troubled Asset Relief Program preferred stock the Bank of North Carolina parent held was auctioned off for a total of $28.4 million -- about an 8 percent discount.

However, the Treasury did not take a true loss on the deal since the bank had already paid about $5 million in dividend payments.

The Treasury announced two weeks ago that it would auction off the investment. The deal is set to close Wednesday.

BB&T now selling personal unemployment insurance

Worried about losing your job? BB&T will now sell you unemployment insurance.

The Winston-Salem bank announced the new offering today, calling it unique in the industry.

Through a policy, a person would make monthly premium payments while he has a job, then receive half his formal salary should he be laid off. The benefits are paid in a split between state governments and the insurance company.

"BB&T is proud to take the lead in offering a product that truly goes to the heart of what so many of our customers worry about on a daily basis," BB&T Insurance marketing and sales manager Randy Screen said in a statement.

The bank offered an example of a man making $90,000. Such a person would pay $23.49 per month.

People making less than $50,000 per year will likely not qualify. You also do not get benefits if you are laid off within six months of taking out a policy.

The policies are handled through a company called IncomeAssure.

Banks sending letters to homeowners offering relief

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

Settlement relief coming. Thousands of people around the country are getting unsolicited letters from their mortgage servicers offering to cut principal and drop their interest rates, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports, among the first signs of what banks involved in a $25 billion settlement are doing to fulfill their obligations. The offers are surprising many Ohioans.

BofA to grill Paulson. Bank of America wealth management advisers will get the chance to question struggling hedge fund manager John Paulson today, the Wall Street Journal says. They'll be asking why his fund has underperformed, which led to Citigroup announcing it would stop investing with the fund.

Mid-size banks get more time. Regulators are planning to give mid-size banks ($10 billion to $50 billion in assets) more time to comply with rules requiring annual internal stress tests, Bloomberg reports. This is a separate rule than the one requiring the Federal Reserve to stress test the country's largest banks.

M&T deal is rare. M&T Bank Corp.'s bid to buy Hudson City Bancorp Inc. will create a dominant Northeastern bank, and is a bit of a rarity in a depressed bank deal market, MarketWatch says. Mergers are down by more than a quarter this year.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Expanded Babson Capital moving to Duke Energy Center

Babson Capital Management is moving to new space in the Duke Energy Center after adding more than 30 employees over the last few years, the company announced Monday.

The global $149 billion asset management company now employs 94 in Charlotte and has space to grow further, the company said. It had been in offices in the Charlotte Plaza building on South College Street.

Babson's largest office is in Springfield, Mass. It came to Charlotte in 2002 by buying the First Union Institutional Debt Management unit, which at that time was a subsidiary of Wachovia.

BB&T laying off 365 post-acquisition in Florida

BB&T will lay off 365 workers in south Florida after buying BankAtlantic, the Winston-Salem bank told Florida officials.

About 120 employees have already been told they will be laid off. Another 245 are expected to be fired, according to a letter sent to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Layoffs are expected to begin Oct. 1 and last through January.

Most of them worked at BankAtlantic headquarters, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.

BB&T got the OK to buy the bank in a $300 million deal in late July. It adds 78 branches, about $2.1 billion in loans and $3.3 billion in deposits, making BB&T the sixth-largest in the south Florida market. It had been 14th.

Bank of America donating 1,000 properties to injured veterans

Bank of America has announced it will donate up to 1,000 foreclosed homes over three years to programs that provide housing to injured veterans and first responders.

The bank has donated about two dozen already, and gave two homes to men injured in the war in Afghanistan last week.

Eric Griego of Tucson, Ariz., his wife and 5-year-old daughter were given the keys to a three-bedroom, two-bath home. The Arizona Star reported that he has wounded in the neck during a firefight in 2010, and still bears wounds.

Matthew Sheffel of San Antonio, Texas received the other. He is a single father of a 10-year-old daughter and 6-year-old quadruplets. NPR reported that he served 12 years in the military and was wounded in the arm.

“This is an important expansion of our property donation and community revitalization initiatives and improves the inventory of homes these organizations focused on assisting our veterans and first responders need,” said D. Steve Boland, the bank's national mortgage outreach executive, in a statement. “We understand our responsibility to help neighborhoods impacted by foreclosure and property abandonment to recover.”

Bank of America was one of several banks that allegedly foreclosed on service members' homes illegally, and new protections for military members were a large component of new servicing standards in the $25 billion mortgage settlement announced earlier this year.

Banks that are a part of the settlement also receive credit toward their penalties by providing relief to service members.  Bank of America's total share of the settlement is $11.8 billion. When the settlement was announced, the Charlotte bank said it would enhance programs for military members to help meet the requirements.

Former N.C. governor among new mortgage settlement directors

Former N.C. banking commissioner Joseph Smith announced Monday the board of directors he has assembled in his new role as monitor of the $25 billion mortgage servicing settlement with the nation's big banks. It's stacked with North Carolina representatives.

The list includes former Republican N.C. governor Jim Holshouser, N.C. Central business school dean Keith Pigues and   Bonnie Hancock, Enterprise Risk Management Initiative executive director at N.C. State's management school.

Other members are former Mississippi banking commissioner John S. Allison and Donald Pape, a financial services attorney with Oklahoma City law firm Phillips Murrah P.C.

Banks firing low-level workers under new standards

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

Banks firing low-level workers. Big banks have been firing thousands of low-level workers because of new banking standards that prohibit employment of anybody who has been convicted of a crime involving dishonesty, USA Today reports. That includes minor crimes committed even decades earlier. The paper spoke with a Des Moines man was fired from Wells Fargo for putting a cardboard cutout of a dime in a washing machine in 1963.

Congressional staff helping homeowners. Congressional staff members have been increasingly negotiating with big banks on behalf of homeowners in their districts who are struggling to stay in their homes, the Baltimore Sun reports. Bank of America and Wells Fargo have even set up special hotlines to handle calls from Congress offices.

Libor suits grow. Lawsuits are piling up related to allegations of Libor interest rate rigging, raising the specter of billions in liability for banks like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, the Wall Street Journal says. It will take years for everything to be sorted out.

Merrill settlement goes to judge. A $40 million settlement of a suit former Merrill Lynch traders brought, claiming they were owed cash payments after Bank of America took over the investment bank in 2009, has been sent to a judge for approval, Bloomberg reports. The brokers said that leaving after the acquisition constituted a "good reason" that would trigger the payments.

BofA protest target. Unsurprisingly, Bank of America has become one of the prime targets of Republican National Convention protesters' animosity in Tampa, the Observer's contingent in Florida reports. Two hundred people marched on the bank's plaza in Tampa in a prelude to what should be even more direct protests next week in Charlotte.

Friday, August 24, 2012

BB&T, Yadkin Valley reviewing FDIC-opposed fee

BB&T and Elkin-based Yadkin Valley Financial are reviewing a fee they charge commercial customers that the FDIC says is improper.

A McClatchy investigation found that hundreds of banks across the country are charging so-called "FDIC assessments" or "FDIC fees," which are meant to offset the bank's cost of insurance payments. But the FDIC warned banks in July to not use the regulator's name in fees, since it gives the impression that the FDIC requires it.

BB&T, based in Winston-Salem and with the third-largest market share in Charlotte, has long charged an FDIC fee equal to about 13 cents on each $1,000 in a business checking account.

"For us and other banks this fee is not new. Many banks have charged it for years to cover the expenses of managing and servicing business accounts," BB&T spokeswoman Merrie Tolbert said in an email. "Clients always have been fully aware of these fees and BB&T has never stated that it was required by the FDIC."

The bank is, though, changing the name of the fee to a "Deposit Account Assessment Fee" effective Sept. 1.

Yadkin Valley, which operates the American Community Bank in Charlotte, charges a 10 cent per $1,000 FDIC fee. Spokeswoman Jill Sutphin said in an email that Yadkin knows about the FDIC's opposition and is reviewing its fee structure.

"We expect this matter to be resolved by no later than the end of the third quarter," she said.

'Zombie' accounts dead at Bank of America

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

'Zombie' accounts dead at BofA. Bank of America has said it will stop the practice of opening "zombie accounts" for customers when they receive a direct deposit to an account already closed, the Chicago Tribune reports. Consumer advocates say this practice can cause fees to rack up without people realizing it.

Small banks getting into credit cards. Small banks are increasingly ramping up their credit card offerings, pushing back against the larger banks that have dominated the market, the Wall Street Journal says. It's a response to the flood of deposits, low interest rates and new regulations. Bank of America is the country's second-largest credit card lender, with $105 billion outstanding (behind JPMorgan Chase).

Fewer homeowners underwater. The number of homeowners who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth fell by 400,000 in the second quarter, according to data from Zillow, a product of slightly increasing home prices and foreclosures, Bloomberg reports.

Programming note. Sadly, banking reporter and Bank Watch co-author Kirsten Pittman has left the Observer to take a consulting job in Charlotte. We wish her the best!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bank of America adds four to its board

Bank of America announced Thursday that it has added four new members to its board of directors, two with North Carolina ties.

The new directors are:

Jack Bovender, 67, former CEO of Nashville-based hospital operator HCA Inc.  He is a Winston-Salem native and serves as vice chairman of Duke University's board of trustees.

Sharon Allen, 60, former chairwoman of Deloitte LLP, the first female to hold the top post. She is frequently cited in Forbes' list of the most powerful women.

Linda Hudson, 62, CEO of defense and aerospace company BAE Systems Inc. She previously was president of General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products in Charlotte.

David Yost, 65, former CEO of pharmaceutical company AmerisourceBergen, where he spent nearly 40 years.

The bank said the appointments were made in anticipation of several members reaching retirement age and are nearing the end of their terms. Three directors are in their 70s.

Directors are paid $80,000 plus a restricted stock award of $160,000 annually, according to securities filings.

Fed closer to action amid weak economic signals

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

Weak signals. New jobless claims unexpectedly rose last week, and U.S. manufacturing remained weak, new data show, suggesting the nation's economic troubles persist, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, stocks were set to slip at the open today.

Fed closer to action. Minutes from the Federal Reserve's recent policy meeting suggest it is close to taking action to bolster the economic recovery, the Wall Street Journal reports. High on the list of options: a new round of quantitative easing. 

Housing improving. Despite sluggish economic growth overall, purchases of new homes in the U.S. probably rose in July, Bloomberg reports. The increase, the third in four months, suggests the industry is recovering. 

Investment bank fined. A regulator fined Rodman & Renshaw for violating rules about the use of analysts to seek investment banking business, the New York Times reports. The bank's former chief compliance officer and two former analysts were fined by Finra and suspended from the securities industry.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

TPG sets up deal-finding office in Charlotte

Global private equity firm TPG has set up an office in Charlotte to find potential deal targets.

TPG Sourcing Advisors LLC will find investment opportunities for TPG Growth, a $2 billion fund that invests in retail, technology, energy and other industries.

The firm is headed by Brian Davis, who most recently was a managing director at Sentinel Capital Partners but previously worked with McColl Partners in Charlotte.

TPG Sourcing has an office in One Morrocroft in SouthPark and currently has three employees. Davis said the firm is currently looking to expand.

Wells Fargo defends mortgage dominance

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

Wells defends mortgage dominance. In a memo to mortgage employees last week, Wells Fargo defended its dominance in the mortgage market, saying growth came through hard work and not "magic," and that it is a sign of good service, Bloomberg reports. The bank has been the subject of some scrutiny lately for its concentration in the market, originating one in three of the country's mortgages.

Short sales easier. People with mortgages owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will now have an easier time completing a short sale under new guidelines from the mortgage giants' regulator, the Wall Street Journal reports. Homeowners who haven't missed mortgage payments will also be eligible.

JPMorgan pay dwarfs China's banks. The world's most profitable bank, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., paid its CEO $9,400 for every billion in profit last year. JPMorgan Chase paid its leader $1.21 million, Bloomberg reports. Analysts say that gap will widen this year, but Chinese banks will become more like those in the U.S. in the coming years.

BofA stopping credit protection. Bank of America will stop selling "credit protection" that drew a federal class action lawsuit, Reuters reports. The program, which required a monthly fee, essentially would cancel a credit card customer's minimum balance if the person lost their job or had another significant hardship. The lawsuit said the bank used deceptive means to sign people up and that the program wasn't worth the money.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

PNC names president for Charlotte region

PNC Bank announced Tuesday that Weston Andress will become the regional president for western North Carolina, which includes Charlotte.

Andress spent 16 years with Bank of America in Charlotte, including time as a managing director in the mergers and acquisitions unit and in corporate and investment banking. He also worked as chief financial officer for four years at Colonial Properties Trust in Charlotte, and spent the last two years as CFO of Washington-based Carr Properties. 

PNC entered the Charlotte market in March through its acquisition of RBC Bank. PNC took on about 18 branches and $1 billion in Charlotte-area deposits.

Uptown Bank of America branches closing during DNC

Bank of America's three uptown branches will be closed during the DNC, spokesman Scott Silvestri said Tuesday.

The branches, at corporate headquarters, 400 South Tryon and the Epicenter, will close Friday, Aug. 31 and re-open the Monday after the convention finishes, Sept. 10.

They're the only three branches the bank has within the I-277 loop. Many uptown streets will be blocked at different times of the week, per security plans from Charlotte police and the Secret Service.

To ease congestion, Bank of America will be adding staff during that week to nearby locations -- at branches in Myers Park, on Kings Drive off Charlottetowne Avenue, at Kenilworth Drive and East Boulevard, and on South Boulevard near Remount Road.

Charlotte pro sports banker leaves BofA for U.S. Bank

Steve Vogel, who is based in Charlotte, has been named vice president of U.S. Bank's professional sports group after serving in a similar role at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, U.S. Bank announced Tuesday.

Vogel will focus on advising professional sports franchises and handling their banking. U.S. Bank's pro sports group has more than 25 clients and $1 billion in loan commitments. 

U.S. Bank has expanded its Charlotte presence over the last few years.

Banking industry without an advocate amid JPMorgan troubles

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

Wall Street leaderless? Wall Street has found itself without a leader as JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon juggles big losses and other troubles, Bloomberg writes. Top executives at other big banks are reluctant to step forward or have lost credibility, leaving the industry without an advocate against government regulations.

Buffett ends muni bonds bet. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. terminated a large bet on the municipal-bond market, raising questions from investors about the risks of buying municipal debt, the Wall Street Journal reports. Warren Buffett's firm disclosed the move in a recent quarterly filing, ending a bullish bet five years early.

Stocks climb. Stocks opened higher this morning on hopes that central banks will act to stimulate their economies, Reuters reports.

Market slide ahead? The S&P 500 is likely to fall by as much as 25 percent as the presidential election approaches, one analyst told CNBC. Bob Janjuah of Nomura said he expects the stocks to trade "at or below the lows of 2011" in the next few months.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Wells Fargo names business banking CFO

Wells Fargo announced Monday that Chris Idol, who is based in Charlotte, will become the chief financial officer of the bank's business banking unit.

Idol will focus on financial reporting strategies and work with regional finance managers. He will report to Hugh Long, who leads the business banking group.

Idol has been with the bank for 20 years, starting as a managing director at First Union's corporate development unit. He most recently was a director in Wells' wealth, brokerage and retirement division.

Banks putting money into Treasuries, not loans

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

Bank money going to Treasuries, not loans. Bank deposits continue to grow, but the money is being increasingly put into buying U.S. Treasury bonds instead of funding loans, Bloomberg reports. While deposits across the industry have grown 3 percent in the first half of the year, lending increased only 1 percent, according to Federal Reserve figures. The $1.77 trillion gap between the two has grown 15 percent.

Asian banks sever ties in U.S. Spooked by Dodd-Frank's impending derivative trading restrictions, Asian banks are increasingly cutting ties with U.S. banks and customers, Reuters says. The rules would require any bank doing such business in America to register as a "swap dealer" and follow U.S. capital requirements.

'Whale' reviewer picked. Former Exxon Mobil CEO Lee Raymond has been tapped to lead a JPMorgan Chase board investigation into its infamous multi-billion trading loss, the Wall Street Journal reports. The review, which could last until winter, could lead to CEO Jamie Dimon's pay being reduced.

Bankers 'unrepentant.' The chairman of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission says ongoing legal settlements with big banks are signs that "the unrepentant and the unreformed are still all too present within our banking system," according to an op-ed published on the Huffington Post. Phil Angelides, the former state treasurer of California, calls for tougher penalties and executives being fired.

Friday, August 17, 2012

SEC shuts down $600 million Ponzi scheme in Lexington

A $600 million Lexington-based online Ponzi scheme on the verge of collapse was shut down by the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday, the regulator said, and many investors will be able to recoup their money from assets now frozen., run by online marketer Paul Burks and his Rex Venture Group allegedly raised money from more than a million people around the world, promising large payouts in a profit sharing program. The company said it was making money buying investment contracts.

But the company lied about how profitable it was, and was making cash payouts with new investors' money, the SEC said.

“ZeekRewards misused the power of the Internet and lured investors by making them believe they were getting an opportunity to cash in on the next big thing," said Stephen Cohen, associate director in the SEC's enforcement division. "In reality, their cash was just going to the earlier investor.”

In July, the company brought in $162 million and paid out $160 million, buoyed by investors who put their money back in the program instead of cashing out.

In total, ZeekRewards paid out $375 million and had $225 million in investor money still on hand. That money is now frozen, the SEC said.

Burks had taken out several million for himself and paid about $1 million to family members.

Burks will settle the charges without admitting or denying guilt, the SEC said. He will pay a $4 million penalty.

The SEC filed its complaint in the federal court in Charlotte. The court will handle distribution of the remaining money to investors.

Lexington is about an hour northeast of Charlotte, in Davidson County.

Treasury to auction Bank of North Carolina's TARP investment

The U.S. Treasury announced today that it intends to auction the bailout-program investment it has in High Point-based BNC Bancorp, the parent company of Bank of North Carolina.

The government has increasingly looked to do this as a way to speed the ending of the politically unpopular program, also known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program or TARP.

As last reported, BNC had about $31 million in TARP money remaining.

While the Treasury could take a loss on TARP investments it auctions, it reports already making a profit on the program. The government says it has gotten back $265 million in principal and interest payments, compard with a $245 million initial investment. About 300 banks still have bailout money.

The auction will be run by Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Sandler O’Neill.

Bank of North Carolina opened a new Charlotte branch in April and announced the acquisition of a small Charlotte commercial bank in June.

N.C. finance employment grows slightly

North Carolina's finance employment grew slightly in July, as the industry continues to rebound from the financial crisis, according to new data from the state commerce department.

Total state "financial activities" employment hit a not-seasonally-adjusted 209,000 in July, up 1.6 percent from July 2011. That beats out the pace of overall private sector growth, which was 1.3 percent. The state's financial sector is still 4 percent off its 2008 peak.

That's slower than the pace of growth in Charlotte. Earlier this month, federal data showed financial activity growth of 2.5 percent in June over the year before.

Bank of America growing more like Wells Fargo?

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

BofA becoming Wells? Could Bank of America be becoming more like Wells Fargo? That's what Motley Fool analysts discuss in a new video, after a note from Bruce Berkowitz making the comparison. Motley Fool says BofA is trending toward Wells by focusing more on retail banking, but says there's a definite reason why Wells is trading at three times its valuation.

Home Depot usurps BofA. Bank of America has ceded its No. 31 spot in the S&P 500 by market cap to Home Depot, according to a report in Forbes. The hardware chain's stock has gained 33 percent this year, and its shares sit at $56.31. The Charlotte bank's stock has grown 42 percent year-to-date after a disastrous year in 2011, but shares are now below $8.

U.S. banks not 'safest.' No U.S. bank makes the Global Finance Magazine list of world's safest until No. 29, when Bank of New York Mellon squeezes in, according to the Wall Street Journal. No publicly traded bank makes the top 10. The "safest" banks are all state-backed. Wells Fargo cracks the list at No. 48. None of the three biggest U.S. banks -- JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup -- are on it.

Finance jobs swing to NY. Financial hiring growth has moved from London back to New York City as the European banks continue to deal with the debt crisis, Bloomberg says. London is expected to lose financial jobs, while NYC finance employment will grow.

Bank exec alleges police brutality. A 53-year-old vice chairman at Deutsche Bank AG has filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department alleging that several officers kidnapped and beat him, the Wall Street Journal reports. The LAPD says they took him to a hotel after he exhibited "erratic behavior" and "subdued" him when he charged at officers.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Criminal charges unlikely for MF Global execs

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

Charges unlikely. A criminal investigation into brokerage firm MF Global's collapse is unlikely to result in any charges against top executives, the New York Times reports. Criminal investigators have determined that chaos and faulty risk controls, not fraud, led to the disappearance of about $1 billion in customer money, people involved in the case told the Times. 

Swiss banks. Swiss banks are turning over thousands of employee names to U.S. authorities as they seek leniency for allegedly helping American clients evade taxes, Bloomberg reports, citing lawyers representing banking staff. 

Knight and JPM. After a trading glitch led to massive losses at Knight Capital Group Inc., the brokerage firm turned to JPMorgan Chase & Co. for emergency funding, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing sources familiar with the situation. 

Economic improvement? More Americans filed new claims for jobless benefits last week, but the overall trend suggested the labor market is improving, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, stocks climbed this morning.

Banks send first mortgage settlement data to monitor

Bank of America, Wells Fargo and the three other big banks involved in the $25 billion state and federal mortgage servicing settlement have sent the first data to the monitor overseeing them about what they've done to help struggling homeowners .

In a statement, monitor Joseph Smith -- formerly the N.C. Commissioner of Banks -- said he'd received preliminary data on what actions the banks had taken between March and June and was now reviewing it. He said he will release a report analyzing the numbers in the next few weeks.

Principal reduction is one of the main tools banks will be using. In May, Bank of America began sending letters to about 200,000 homeowners about a program to reduce principal for homeowners owing more than their house is worth.

Other actions banks will be taking include "cash for keys" programs and refinancings.

Bank of America must provide $11.8 billion in total aid. Wells Fargo's share is $5.3 billion.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Banking fees on the rise

Checking account and other banking fees have risen in the first six months of the year, according to a semi-annual survey from

The average amount required to open an account rose 4 percent to $408.76. Consumer advocates look at a rising minimum opening balance as a sign more people will be unable to access traditional bank services.

Average monthly service fees rose 7 percent, to $12.08.

The average amount required to avoid the monthly fee rose 24 percent, to $4,446.57.

Overdraft fees rose slightly, the percent of free checking fell and ATM fees rose.

"Previous surveys have tended to show more of a mixed bag, with some fees rising and others falling," MoneyRates senior financial analyst Richard Barrington wrote. "But the latest survey shows a comprehensive trend toward checking accounts becoming more expensive."

The survey takes the average of fees charged at the 50 largest U.S. banks and a similar number of smaller banks.

Large banks have been under increasing pressure to raise their fees after new financial regulations have crimped revenue, including a cap on debit card transaction fees and tighter restrictions on overdraft fees.

Wells Fargo forms team to lend to homebuilders

Despite sluggishness in home construction, Wells Fargo has created a team of bankers to serve homebuilders on the East Coast, in Texas and the Midwest, the bank announced Wednesday.

The group of 14 will report to Charlotte-based executive Bird Anderson, a 27-year veteran of Wachovia and Wells.

“We’re starting to see some modest signs of increased demand in the homebuilding sector in many markets," Anderson said in a statement. "Our dedicated banking team is ready to help satisfy our homebuilder clients’ financial needs as the market begins its recovery."

Wells Fargo has a firm hold on the mortgage market in the U.S., originating 33 percent of new mortgages and servicing 18.5 percent, tops in both categories. The concentration has drawn attention from analysts and ratings agencies.

The new home construction market has been tepid since the mortgage bubble burst five years ago, and sales still indicate a less-than-healthy market, according to the Associated Press.

But builders began construction on more homes and apartments in June than in the past four years, and homebuilder confidence reached the highest since February 2007, according to National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index data released Wednesday.

BofA publishes corporate social responsibility report

Bank of America came out with its annual corporate social responsibility report today, highlighting some of the bank's charitable contributions and sustainable business practices in 2011.

In a letter attached to the report, chief marketing and strategy officer Anne Finucane stressed that the company has made strides in simplifying the bank in the past year but wants to do more.

"We have made significant changes in our policies and practices — our position on overdrafts, our clarity commitment and our loan modification programs to name a few," Finucane wrote. "And we are moving forward with energy and optimism. This is how we will grow and, as importantly, restore confidence in our company."

Here are some of the report's highlights:


  • Employees volunteered 1.5 million hours in 2011, up from 1.3 million hours.
  • Donated $25 million to nonprofits, matched by the bank.
  • Bank of America began reimbursing employees for the added tax cost of insuring a same-sex partner.
  • Employees submitted 200,000 ideas to help Project New BAC, the cost-cutting initiative.
Business practices
  • The bank cancelled plans for a $5 debit card fee that many of its competitors were also considering. "Because we listen and respond to what customers tell us, we made the decision to end the planning process and not to implement the fee."
  • About $695 million in assets under management in "socially responsible investment" funds.
  • Customer satisfaction levels remained steady until August, when "a confluence of negative news stories and experience challenges caused some decline."
  • The bank rewrote a number of disclosure forms and statements in plain language to make them more understandable.
  • New chief data officer hired to boost customer privacy and data security.
  • Bank spent $2.36 billion with "diverse suppliers," up from $2.33 billion in 2010 and $1.87 billion in '09.
  • Bank paid $2.7 billion in federal, state, local and international taxes.
  • As new regulations were crafted, Bank of America "continued to play an active role with government officials and civil servants to build a stronger global financial system."
Building economies
  • Extended $557 billion in credit, including $126.9 billion in community development initiatives.
  • Operated 1,552 branches in "underserved neighborhoods," or 27 percent of the total.
  • Increased small business lending by $1 billion, to $18.7 billion.
  • Committed $3.65 billion toward environmental projects.
  • Spent $3.5 million on energy efficiency within the company.
  • Reduced water consumption to 3.9 billion gallons from 4.2 billion.

Charlotte-based executive Andrew Plepler will lead a Twitter chat about the report at 2 p.m., using the hashtag #bofacsr.

Costs of bad mortgages, foreclosures piling up

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

Mounting mortgage costs. As Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac increasingly pressure big banks to buy back bad loans, the total cost of mortgages in default and foreclosures has reached $84 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. In just the first half of this year, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and three other big mortgage originators set aside $3 billion, and regional banks have set aside more than ever before. The number is likely to rise.

Australia beating Europe. For the first time, Australian banks have a larger market capitalization than their counterparts in Europe, according to new research from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the Wall Street Journal says. Euro-zone banks have plummeted in value amid the debt crisis.

BofA and Jefferson County. Bank of America has withdrawn its challenge to the bankruptcy filing of Jefferson County, Ala., after the Charlotte bank said it has sold all the sewer bonds from the county it holds, Reuters reports. The Alabama county was pushed into default under the weight of interest rate swaps on the billions in sewer bonds, contracts originated by JPMorgan Chase.

Standard Chartered fine. Britain's Standard Chartered bank will pay the brand-new regulatory agency New York Department of Financial Services $340 million to resolve charges that the bank laundered money for Iran, The New York Times reports. The state regulator took on the bank alone, but some worry it could weaken a larger investigation being conducted by federal regulators.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fitch 'sensitive' to Wells Fargo's mortgage dominance

Fitch Ratings is "sensitive" to the market-dominating position Wells Fargo has in home mortgages, but it's not putting any pressure on the bank's credit rating yet, the ratings agency wrote in a credit analysis published Tuesday.

Wells is the nation's leader in mortgage origination and servicing, making 33 percent of loans and servicing 18.5 percent, according to data from Inside Mortgage Finance.

"While Fitch is increasingly sensitive to this concentration, there are no direct rating implications at this time," Fitch analysts wrote. "Given its size in the market, WFC will likely remain the focus of regulatory, political, and legal scrutiny."

Fitch did note that there is little likelihood of a credit upgrade in the near future. Wells is already ahead of most of its peers.

The credit analysis was overall positive, also discussing Wells Fargo's strong liquidity, earnings, cost of funding and capital position. It did say that nonperforming assets remain high comparative to regional banks.

Wells Fargo fined for selling securities without understanding them

Wells Fargo was fined $6.5 million by the Securities and Exchange Commission after the bank's brokerage firm sold complex investments tied to mortgage-backed securities without fully understanding or disclosing their risks, the regulator announced Tuesday.

Instead, the bank relied solely on credit ratings, the SEC said. The investments were sold to cities and non-profits between January 2007 and August 2007.

“Broker-dealers must do their homework before recommending complex investments to their customers,” said Elaine C. Greenberg, head of the SEC's  municipal securities and public pensions unit in the enforcement division, in a statement. “Municipalities and other non-profit institutions were harmed because Wells Fargo abdicated its fundamental responsibility as a broker to have a reasonable basis for its investment recommendations to customers.”

Former Wells vice president Shawn McMurtry was also charged in the case. The SEC found that he violated the bank's policy in recommending the investments. He will be suspended from the securities industry for six months and pay a $25,000 penalty.

Wells Fargo and McMurtry neither admit nor deny guilt in the settlement.

The SEC also found that the bank has taken steps since 2007 to prevent similar situations.

Blueharbor bank to deregister its shares

Mooresville-based blueharbor bank (yes, it prefers the lower case) said Tuesday that it has filed paperwork to deregister its common shares under new federal legislation that makes it possible.

The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, signed into law April 5, is intended to help start-up companies and small businesses escape a number of federal regulations and raise money more easily. It also allows community banks to deregister with the Securities and Exchange Commission if they have fewer than 1,200 investors, up from 300 investors previously.

The bill passed with broad support, though critics have said it could open some investors to fraud.

Blueharbor -- which as about $140 million in assets -- said the money it will save by eliminating reporting requirements will outweigh the benefits of being registered.

“The bank’s board of directors carefully made this decision after considering the advantages and disadvantages of being a FDIC registered company and the advice of our legal and accounting partners to deregister, which eliminates this regulatory burden and expense," blueharbor CEO Jim Marshall said in a statement.

The bank's shares are traded on the Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board under the ticker BLHK. Blueharbor said it expects to still trade there.

The bank said it will also continue to release financial results, even though it will no longer be required.

Blueharbor also reported Tuesday a profit of $149,243 in the second quarter, or 8 cents per share. That's an increase from a profit of $6,177 in the same time period last year.

Trading rules sealed Knight loss

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

Knight loss. Regulations enacted after the May 2010 flash crash sealed Knight Capital Group Inc.'s $440 million loss this month, Bloomberg reports. Those rules, meant to protect investors, meant Knight couldn't cancel its unintended orders. 

Faster trading. Today's stock market is faster than ever, thanks to advances in trading technology - but new research shows the benefits to investors have stalled or started to reverse, the New York Times reports. 

Euro zone shrinks. Germany and France avoided shrinking in the second quarter, but the euro zone as a whole fell back into contraction, the Wall Street Journal reports. 

New service at JPM. JPMorgan Chase & Co. will allow futures and swaps customers to house excess collateral in a separate bank account, Bloomberg writes. The new service is meant to reassure investors after losses at MF Global Holdings Ltd. and Peregrine Financial Group Inc. 

Stocks rise. Stocks climbed this morning on stronger-than-expected retail sales data, suggesting improving consumer spending, Reuters reports.

Monday, August 13, 2012

DNC (but not convention) pulling money from Bank of America

The Democratic National Committee is planning to pull some of its deposits from Bank of America in favor of a bank owned by labor unions, a party source told the Wall Street Journal -- but money for the upcoming convention money will be staying put.

A convention official tells the Observer that the DNCC will keep its money in the Charlotte bank.

The convention host committee and its New American City fund also have their money with Bank of America. In total, about $65 million in convention money could pass through the bank.

The Democratic National Committee joins a number of other liberal organizations in moving some of its money to union-owned Amalgamated Bank, the Journal says, after pressure originating from the Occupy Wall Street movement.

JPMorgan Chase expands Charlotte commercial banking team

JPMorgan Chase announced Monday that it has added five people to its commercial lending team in Charlotte, giving the New York bank eight employees in the unit.

Two of the bankers came from Bank of America, with the rest from other parts of JPMorgan. The team lends to businesses with more than $20 million in annual sales.

The bank -- which does not have a brick-and-mortar consumer presence in North Carolina -- plans to further hire in the state over the next two years.

“We have made great progress in building a localized team of talented bankers in Charlotte over the last 18 months,” regional president Wayne Trotman said in a statement. “Our bankers have established themselves in this region and we are confident they will help us serve more businesses and institutions here.” 

Joining the commercial lending team:   Andy Nadeau and Jason Lloyd from Bank of America; and Kevin Lander, Todd Rizzieri and Janine Vargo.

BofA sells Merrill Lynch overseas unit

Bank of America announced Monday that it has agreed to sell Merrill Lynch's overseas wealth management lines to a Swiss private bank.

The Julius Baer Group will pay 1.2 percent of the total client assets for the businesses, which currently amount to $84 billion. About $250 million will be paid in new Julius Baer common stock, and the rest in cash, Bank of America said. The Swiss bank said it would pay up to 860 million Swiss francs, or about $880 million.

Bank of America said it will now focus on commercial lending overseas. The Charlotte bank also announced a "cooperation agreement" with Julius Baer to provide services to its new clients.

The sale does not include Bank of America's joint Japanese venture with Mitsubishi or international wealth management units based in the U.S. Bank of America said the sale would have an "immaterial" effect on the bank's finances.

Signs of robosigning in banks' credit card collections

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

Credit card robosigning. Remember robosigning? Well, it's back. There are now signs that the practice exposed in mortgage foreclosures, where banks used false documents and employees signing hundreds of documents a day without reading them, has made it to credit card collections, The New York Times reports. Some judges say that as many as 90 percent of the lawsuits to collect debts they preside over use improper documentation.

Regulator hits big time. The financial system's smallest regulator, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, is now in the spotlight as it investigates the Libor-rigging scandal, The New York Times says. Lawmakers say the agency was once "toothless," but it now has the respect of Wall Street.

Wells suit after child's cancer. A former Wells Fargo employee in Florida has sued the bank, claiming he was fired because of the cost of his young daughter's cancer treatments, the New York Daily News reports. Before he was fired, the man says the bank and its insurance company asked "numerous questions" about the girl's treatment plan. She died last year. Wells says the man was fired for improperly filling out time sheets.

Euro banks buying bonds. European banks are buying back their bonds -- which have fallen precipitously in value -- in order to record an accounting gain and boost profits, the Wall Street Journal reports. Critics say the moves hamper the banks' liquidity. The accounting gains are similar to the ones U.S. banks like Bank of America have recorded in recent quarters.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Big banks develop survival plans

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

Banks plan for the worst. U.S. regulators told five of the country's biggest banks, including Charlotte's Bank of America Corp., to develop plans for preventing collapse, Reuters reports. Regulators directed those lenders to come up with the largely secret "recovery plans" beginning in May 2010, according to documents obtained by Reuters. 

U.S. won't prosecute. The Justice Department won't bring charges against Goldman Sachs Group Inc. or its employees for financial fraud related to the mortgage crisis, it said after a yearlong investigation, the Wall Street Journal reports. Authorities said they couldn't meet the burden of proof to prosecute the Wall Street giant criminally. 

Regulators plan overhaul. Responding to public anger over the Libor rate-rigging scandal, British regulators plan to overhaul the rate-setting process, the New York Times reports. Reforms might include scrapping the current system and making it a criminal offense to manipulate benchmark rates. 

Stocks slip. U.S. stocks fell this morning on worse-than-expected Chinese trade data and fears the global economy is slowing, Bloomberg reports.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Wells Fargo named best Internet bank in U.S.

Global Finance magazine has named Wells Fargo the "best Internet bank" in the U.S. for both consumers and corporations, according to its annual rankings published in its September issue.

In the consumer category, Wells took the top spot in best bill payment, best website design and best in social media.

In corporate, Wells was tops in website design, mobile banking and online treasury services.

“Customers have woven online and mobile banking into their everyday lives, and engage with us each day through our social media channel. The Global Finance Magazine awards are a great honor,” Wells Fargo digital channels group executive Jim Smith said in a statement.

“Customers are at the center of everything we do, and we constantly listen to them through research and feedback as we work to address their needs and help them succeed financially.”

Knight trading glitch could have been worse, sources say

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

Trading glitch. Knight Capital Group Inc. was holding about $7 billion worth of stocks last week as a result of errant trades, far more than previously known, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing sources familiar with the matter. As traders scrambled to minimize losses due to a software problem, the total position fell to $4.6 billion by the end of the day, the sources said. 

Increasing mortgage profits. Banks are making big gains on mortgages by taking profits far higher than the historical norm, the New York Times reports. Analysts say today's low interest rates could be even lower if banks were satisfied with the profit margins of a few years ago. 

Political ties. Employees at Goldman Sachs Group are giving 70 percent of their political donations to Republicans this election season, Bloomberg reports. That's a turnaround from four years ago, when workers at the Wall Street giant gave three-fourths of their donations to Democratic candidates and committees, and represents the biggest switch among 25 major companies, Bloomberg found. 

Man vs. machine. Morgan Stanley is replacing some of its highly paid bond traders with computers as it looks to repair its bond-trading business, the Wall Street Journal reports. The shift has already reduced the ranks of traders on some desks by as much as 20 percent. 

Signs of growth. The number of new U.S. jobless claims fell last week, while the trade deficit in June was the smallest in 1 1/2 years, suggesting modest economic improvement, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, stocks were little changed at the open today.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

College debit card issuer Higher One must pay $11 million

The company Central Piedmont Community College uses to issue debit cards will pay more than $11 million to resolve claims that it deceptively charged students fees, the FDIC announced Wednesday.

Higher One has contracts with hundreds of colleges and universities around the country to offer student ID cards linked with checking accounts or disburse financial aid. East Carolina University also has a contract with the company.

The FDIC found that Higher One charged multiple overdraft fees on a single transaction, allowed accounts to remain overdrawn to continue to rack up fees, and took money intended for tuition payments to cover fee balances, according to the agency.

Higher One will reimburse about 60,000 students $11 million in improper fees. It will also pay a penalty of $110,000. Its banking partner, The Bancorp Bank, will pay a $172,000 penalty.

The company will also have to stop charging fees on accounts with negative balances for more than 60 days, stop charging more than three overdraft fees per day and not charge multiple overdraft fees on a single transaction.

In the settlement, Higher One neither admits not denies the claims.

Update, 12:15 p.m. Friday:  In a statement, Higher One CEO Mark Volchek said the company has already reimbursed the 2 percent of customers affected. "We believe the relatively low civil money penalty imposed reflects how seriously we take our commitment to our customers, the degree of the issue, and our level of cooperation with the FDIC," he said in the statement.

Yadkin Valley Bank evens up on TARP payments

Elkin-based Yadkin Valley Financial Corp. announced Wednesday that it has evened up with the federal government on the dividends it owed on its bailout money.

The bank, which operates American Community Bank in Charlotte, received $49 million through the TARP program, and remains one of the dwindling number of banks yet to pay it back.

Yadkin Valley hadn't made a payment since June 2011 and owed about $3 million, according to U.S. Treasury data. Regulators gave the bank approval to make the dividend payments, and it is now current.

"This is truly a sign of strength for our company and a tangible vote of confidence from our regulators," CEO Joe Towell said in a statement. "We believe this event validates our progress toward our strategic goals over the last year. We have posted four consecutive quarters of profitability ... and we are well-positioned for success going forward."

Banks still having mortgage servicing problems

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

Mortgage servicing standards not improving. Despite new mortgage standards as part of the $25 billion settlement reached with the nation's largest servicers, banks have not made much progress in improving, the Huffington Post says. Files are still lost, and thousands of homeowners are still in limbo.

MetLife fined. MetLife, the insurer getting out of the banking business, got a $3.2 million fine from the Federal Reserve for mortgage servicing errors, Bloomberg reports. It's part of the large mortgage servicing settlement reached with the OCC and the Fed in April 2011.

BofA snags exec. Bank of America Merrill Lynch has grabbed a M&A executive from UBS to head up its Asia-Pacific business, Reuters reports.

DNC security plan. This isn't strictly finance, but if you work in one of the bank buildings uptown, you're going to want to read this about the DNC security plan. If you have to come uptown during the convention, allow yourself a lot more time.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Fed official urges action to shore up economy

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

Bond buying. Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren is calling on the Fed to launch a bond-buying program that would continue until economic growth picks up and unemployment falls, the Wall Street Journal reports. The official's move to speak out is a sign of momentum building inside the Fed for new action, the Journal writes.

Safe havens. American investors are turning to places such as Norway, Sweden and Australia for safety while they wait out the European crisis and continued troubles in the U.S. and China, the New York Times reports. Those countries offer "little of the risk, or the outsize returns," the Times writes.

Confidence falls. CEOs in the U.S. were less confident about the economy in the second quarter, with more predicting economic conditions will worsen in the next six months, Bloomberg reports, citing a private survey. The decline from the first quarter was the largest since the survey began in 2009.

Stocks climb. Stocks rose this morning as investors await action from the European Central Bank, Reuters reports.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Banks in Libor probes pointing fingers at each other

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

Banks point fingers. As regulators' probes into Libor-rigging allegations continues, banks are pointing fingers at each other, trying to impress upon examiners that their actions weren't as bad as others, The New York Times says. "We’re not as bad as the next guy," the attitude is, as one source explained it to the Times.

Small banks angry. Community bankers are becoming more vocal about their anger over new federal regulations they say will force them to cut back on lending, the Wall Street Journal reports. New capital rules intended to reign in the largest international banks could end up with a more disparate impact on smaller lenders.

Swiss banks threatened. Swiss banks are hemorrhaging high-income clients as U.S. and European governments more aggressively seek out tax dodgers, Bloomberg reports. More than 100 banks in Switzerland, known for its secrecy in the banking system, could vanish, a report says.

Check cashers criticized. As they become more sophisticated, check cashing stores and other financial services for the so-called "underbanked" are drawing increasing criticism from advocates for the poor, who say these stores take advantage of people with few other options, The New York Times says. These services often come with higher fees than with many checking accounts, but without many of the requirements.

Housing settlement confusion. As federal and state officials roll out television ads and online tools to help people try to figure out if they qualify for assistance after the blockbuster $25 billion mortgage servicing settlement with Bank of America, Wells Fargo and others, one thing isn't clear -- who is going to get help, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel says. Since the banks who settled are running their own program, there are no clear-cut guidelines to help people know if they qualify.

Friday, August 3, 2012

CertusBank acquires Charlotte mortgage company

A Greenville, S.C., bank announced today it will acquire Charlotte's Myers Park Mortgage Inc.

CertusBank, which has $1.8 billion in assets and offices across the Southeast, said it is buying the privately held mortgage company as part of a broader strategy to expand its mortgage business. The lender did not provide financial details about the deal, which is subject to regulatory approval.

Myers Park Mortgage chief executive Charles Myers said the merger will help "preserve the strong reputation and legacy built" since his company was founded in 1992.

Along with its Greenville, S.C., headquarters, CertusBank has corporate offices in Charlotte and Atlanta, plus 30 branches and 31 ATMs across the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.

First Trust Bank swings to second-quarter profit

Charlotte-based First Trust Bank swung to a profit in the second quarter, earning $1.2 million, or 24 cents per diluted share, the lender reported this week.

That was up from a loss of $465,000, or 10 cents per diluted share, for the same period in 2011. The small commercial bank also saw its asset quality improve in the second quarter. Non-performing assets made up 6.4 percent of total assets by June 30, compared to 8.6 percent at the end of December.

First Trust reported total assets of $415 million, down from $468 million the year before.

The lender, whose target market is small to medium-sized businesses and professionals, has two offices in Charlotte and one in Mooresville. In June, High Point-based BNC Bancorp announced it would acquire First Trust in a $35 million cash and stock deal expected to close in the fourth quarter.

Charlotte financial employment hits four-year high

Chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics
The number of financial services jobs in the Charlotte metro area reached 74,300 in June, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows, the highest it has been since August 2008.

The preliminary data reports employment growth of 5 percent since the beginning of the year in "financial activities," and 2.5 percent growth over the same time last year. Employment is still down 5 percent from its peak in 2006.

The growth comes even as Charlotte's largest bank employers, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, have been shedding jobs. They still maintain more than 35,000 jobs in Charlotte, and have both been hiring mortgage servicers in response to new legal standards.

Other financial firms with locations in Charlotte -- like Ameritrust and US Bancorp-- have been expanding.

The June figures are preliminary and could still be revised. Finance employment also tends to peak in the summer months and fall by the end of the year.

Other government data have shown a more modest recovery in finance and insurance jobs.

Faster job growth boosts stocks

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

Job growth boosts stocks. Bank stocks are pointed higher Friday after a new report shows the U.S. economy gained 163,000 jobs in July, higher than expected, The New York Times says. The unemployment rate, however, ticked up slightly. Both Bank of America and Wells Fargo shares were up more than 1 percent in premarket trading.

Mortgage trouble. The recent surge in rep and warranty claims on mortgages sold by Bank of America aren't just from faulty Countrywide loans, Bloomberg reports. They also include a sizable portion made by the legacy Charlotte bank and its Merrill Lynch unit.

JPMorgan exec pushed 'Whale.' A JPMorgan Chase executive encouraged the trader who racked up billions in losses to adjust the values of his positions higher, presumably to avoid causing alarm by higher-ups, the Wall Street Journal reports. The findings are part of the bank's internal review of what happened.

Small banks fight CFPB. Community banks are asking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to exempt them from two new rules on mortgage disclosures and underwriting, saying they would be too burdensome, Bloomberg reports. Small banks have already gotten some concessions as Dodd-Frank goes into effect.

Dark Knight. Knight Capital is seeking a rescue buyer and on the verge of collapse after a computer glitch caused it to lose millions of dollars trading, the Wall Street Journal reports. The firm has last three-quarters of its value in recent days and many firms have stopped doing business with it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

BofA paying $738 million in swipe fee settlement

Bank of America will be paying $738 million as its part of a multi-billion settlement with merchants over credit card fee fixing allegations, the Charlotte bank disclosed in a quarterly securities filing released Thursday.

The settlement, worth $6 billion overall, was announced last month and resolves claims from retailers that Visa, MasterCard and card-issuing banks conspired to fix the swipe fees they charged on every transaction.

Bank of America will pay $199 million in cash. The rest comes from a reduction in value of its Visa stock holdings. The bank said it has already accounted for the payments.

European Central Bank gearing up to buy euro zone bonds

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

Euro zone bonds. The European Central Bank will gear up to buy Italian and Spanish bonds - but it will only act after governments there use their bailout funds to do the same, Reuters reports. The ECB said intervention would start next month, at the earliest. Stocks opened lower this morning following the news. 

Trading glitch. Knight Capital Group Inc. said electronic-trading glitches in its system are likely to cost the brokerage firm $440 million, the Wall Street Journal reports. The firm had warned big Wall Street trading companies to route orders elsewhere Wednesday due to a "technology issue."

Banking myths. Facing mounting pressure about their size and role in the global economy, big banks are being forced to perpetuate "three myths," a business professor writes in the New York Times. He argues the largest banks should be made small enough and simple enough to fail.

Berkshire benefits. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is benefiting after Warren Buffett ramped up investments related to the U.S. housing market, Bloomberg reports. The Omaha, Nebraska, company is about 3 percent away from its top closing price since 2008.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ally Financial posts second-quarter loss

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

Ally posts loss. Ally Financial posted a second-quarter loss of $898 million, Bloomberg reports, including a large charge-off related to its mortgage unit bankruptcy. The U.S. government still owns the majority of the company.

Principal reduction. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are continuing to oppose reducing principal amounts on loans it holds despite pressure from the Treasury to do so, Forbes says. The two mortgage giants own about half of the country's mortgages.

China/Iran. The Chinese government is asking the U.S. to rescind sanctions it announced against a Chinese bank that the White House says helped Iran evade its own sanctions, the Associated Press reports. China says it's hurting U.S.-Chinese relations.