Saturday, June 29, 2013

Bank of America said to be sending home-valuation reviews to India

Bank of America is sending property reviews to India as it tries to rebuild its share in U.S. mortgages at a lower cost, according to Bloomberg News. The news agency cites "four people with knowledge of the move" as sources for the story.

From the story:

Workers in the new Bangalore office follow checklists to determine if appraisals are complete, said the people, who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to comment. The firm also eliminated jobs of licensed U.S. workers in its LandSafe business, the appraisal division of the Charlotte, North Carolina-based company, which made $78.7 billion in loans last year, the people said.
The story points out that Bank of America slipped from being the biggest U.S. mortgage lender in 2008 to fourth in 2012.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

SunTrust Banks survey: Companies more optimistic

In a positive sign for lenders, a second-quarter survey from Atlanta-based SunTrust Banks shows that Southeast businesses are more optimistic than they were a year ago.

Among leaders of middle-market businesses – those with annual revenue of $10 million to $100 million – 65 percent said their companies’ financial well-being has improved.

Leaders of small businesses were slightly less upbeat. For companies with annual revenue of $1 million to $10 million, 62 percent reported being in a better financial position.

SunTrust has 19 branches in Mecklenburg County, according to federal data. The bank has $712.4 million in deposits in the county, putting it in sixth place.

In an interview, Bill Peele, president of SunTrust’s Mecklenburg/South Carolina region, said the survey mirrors what he’s observing in the area he oversees.

“We’re seeing that confidence in our conversations with our clients and prospects,” he said. “Folks are feeling better about the economy.”

Peele said he's not surprised by the survey’s finding that investing in new technology is the top priority for businesses of all sizes, because he's seeing the same thing.

Also, he said, Charlotte-area businesses have begun expanding into new markets.

“We weren’t seeing a lot of that in the last few years,” he said, adding that expansions into global markets are growing. “We’re seeing a lot of that in Charlotte.”

Charlotte-area companies are investing more capital into their businesses than in previous years, he said, adding that businesses are also more confident about cash flows.

“They’re still watching it,” he said. “But over the last couple of years their cash flows have kind of stabilized.”

Companies are also still watching expenses, he said.

The report also shows that some of the top business concerns for companies of all sizes are increased operating costs, new government regulations, changes to employee benefits offered and changes to tax structure.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Bank of America releases 2012 Corporate Social Responsibility report

Bank of America released its latest Corporate Social Responsibility report Monday, focusing on the company's financial accomplishments and its activities worldwide to help communities and the environment in 2012.

The bank also points out in the report some of the challenges it is facing in trying to reduce its impact on the environment.

"I’m proud of the impact we make each day through volunteering and philanthropy, the revitalization of our neighborhoods and our involvement in so many important issues, including hunger relief, education, job training, the environment and support for our military and veterans," CEO Brian Moynihan says in the report.

Some Bank of America 2012 highlights, according to the report:


  • Extended $475 billion in credit to individuals, businesses and nonprofits.
  • $19.6 billion to U.S. small businesses, up from $17.7 billion in 2011 and $18.7 billion in 2010. 
  • $75.1 billion in U.S. first mortgages, including $15.5 billion for roughly 96,500 people of low- and moderate-incomes.
  • Set a goal to invest $50 billion globally over the next 10 years in business activities that address climate change and demands on natural resources. That's in the wake of completing a $20 billion similar initiative.
  • By the end of 2012, 53 banking centers, totaling 266,000 square feet, had achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.
Community giving
  • Contributed roughly $200 million toward a 10-year, $2 billion philanthropic investment goal. Of that, more than $187 million was in cash giving, and $36 million was in-kind.
  • 1.5 million volunteer hours.
  • Reduced long-term debt to $276 billion as of Dec. 31, from $372 billion in December 2011.
  • Completed a three-year divestiture of more than $60 billion in noncore activities that didn't have "meaningful" impact on the bank's core earnings.
But as Bank of America moves away from owning to leasing more space -- a move that comes as the bank, like many others, is trying to reduce costs -- it says it can be hard to track how the effect it is having on the environment, such as water usage.

"While many of our landlords have extensive sustainability programs, this transition of operational control occasionally presents challenges to our efforts toward reducing our environmental footprint," the report says. "Among these challenges is decreased transparency in utility usage and reduced opportunities to generate measurable returns on our environmental efficiency investments.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Plexus Capital wins SBA investment company award

A Charlotte firm has been honored by the U.S. Small Business Administration as a 2013 small-business investment company of the year.

Plexus Capital, which provides capital to middle-market companies, has made investments that have resulted in almost 5,000 jobs created or retained, the SBA said Friday.

Plexus is one of two 2013 winners of the SBA's small-business investment company awards. Blue Sage Capital, of Austin, Texas, is the other.

The SBA made the announcement as part of National Small Business Week. The SBA also said Friday that Wells Fargo won the large 7(a) loan lender of the year award for making more than $1.24 billion in loans and supporting more than 37,000 jobs in fiscal 2012.

FNB United shareholders OK name change to CommunityOne Bancorp

FNB United Corp. has won shareholder approval to change its corporate name to CommunityOne Bancorp.

Shareholders voted overwhelmingly Thursday in support of the change; of 19.6 million votes, only 9,018, or 0.04 percent, opposed it.

The vote was held at the company's annual meeting. It comes after Asheboro-based FNB last month said it won approval to merge CommunityOne Bank and Bank of Granite.

According to the latest available federal data, CommunityOne has one branch in Mecklenburg County. Bank of Granite has four in the county.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Court orders Waxhaw capital manager to pay $11.7 million

A Waxhaw man has been ordered to pay $11.7 million after being found to have fraudulently taken in millions through an investment pool, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission announced today.

Toby D. Hunter, who ran Prestige Capital Advisors and D2W Capital Management in Charlotte, was accused of accepting $4.7 million to invest in commodities and futures, then posting false historical returns and recent results and  for current and potential customers to see. He also allegedly sent out false account statements.

Hunter and his companies will now have to pay back the money and pay an additional $7 million fine.

Bank of America lauded for cutting legal expenses

Battling lawsuit after lawsuit, Bank of America has had to shell out a pretty penny on lawyers over the past few years.

But the bank has cut down the number of outside lawyers they're paying and the dollar amount as well -- earning the bank an award from a legal industry group.

The Association of Corporate Counsel named the Charlotte bank one of the dozen companies it says have come up with "innovative strategies that deliver results while keeping efficiency high and costs low."

Bank of America cut down the number of outside law firms it works with from 700 to 30. A new department also keeps track of each law firm's costs, hours spent, budget savings and a number of other metrics. And more than 80 percent of cases are now using fixed fees or other arrangements besides billable hours.

Read more about what the bank's been doing here.

The bank spent $4.2 billion on litigation last year, down from $5.6 billion in 2011, according to securities filings.

Gary Lynch, the bank's current general counsel, gets a citation. Assistant general counsel Marcy Hingst, associate general counsel Lani Quarmby and director of litigation Jana Litsey do as well. The latter three are in Charlotte. Lynch is based in New York.

CEO Brian Moynihan used to be the bank's general counsel, so he presumably kept a focus on the area. Indeed, the association first cites the creation of a "litigation roundtable" in 2010, months after Moynihan took the top job.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Rep. Maxine Waters calls for Bank of America investigation

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters is calling for an investigation of Bank of America after former bank employees said in court documents that they were told to mislead homeowners seeking loan modifications and create delays for them.

In letters to government officials Tuesday, Waters, a California Democrat, said her request was prompted by media coverage of the former employees' allegations. The workers claim the Charlotte-based bank improperly disqualified homeowners requesting assistance through the federal Home Affordable Modification Program.

The allegations were filed in federal court in Boston as part of a lawsuit brought against the bank by homeowners who didn't receive permanent modifications under HAMP.

"It has come to my attention ... that employees at one of the nation's largest servicers are alleged to have 'falsified records and were told to delay U.S. loan-assistance applications by requesting paperwork that the (bank) had already received," wrote Waters, the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee. "It goes without saying that this is an outright abuse of consumers and government mortgage-assistance programs."

Bank of America, in a statement released in response to the allegations, said it has completed "more modifications for our customers in need of assistance than any other servicer under the Home Affordable Modification Program."

The bank also says the claims of the former workers are inaccurate.

Bank of America slips further behind Capital One for auto loans

One quarter after overtaking Bank of America, Capital One Financial Corp. extended its lead over the Charlotte-based bank in a first-quarter ranking of the U.S.'s largest depository auto lenders.

The ranking, released by SNL Financial, shows McLean, Va.-based Capital One, the parent company of Capital One Bank, grew its auto loans to $27.9 billion in the first quarter, up 3 percent from the fourth quarter.

That enabled Capital One to stay in fourth place and keep Charlotte-based Bank of America locked in fifth place.

Bank of America increased its loans by 0.72 percent over the same period, to $26.8 billion from $26.6 billion.

Capital One knocked Bank of America to fifth place in the fourth quarter, when Capital One's auto loans increased 2.6 percent from the third quarter.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo retained its No. 2 spot in the first quarter, with $47.2 billion in loans, up 2.7 percent from the fourth quarter.

Wells Fargo needs at least $13 billion more in loans to catch up with first place Ally Financial.

Ally, based in New York, was No. 1 in the first quarter, unchanged from the fourth quarter. Ally had $60.4 billion in auto loans in the first quarter, down 6.7 percent from $64.7 billion in the fourth quarter.


Monday, June 17, 2013

Ex-employees: BofA misled homeowners trying to avoid foreclosure

ProPublica reports that former Bank of America employees have disclosed in court filings that the Charlotte-based bank regularly misled homeowners seeking loan modifications, denying such requests for bogus reasons.
"The employee statements were filed late last week in federal court in Boston as part of a multi-state class action suit brought on behalf of homeowners who sought to avoid foreclosure through the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) but say they had their cases botched by Bank of America."
The sworn statements were filed this month, in federal court in Boston.

The Observer reached out to the bank for a response to the story. Here's what we got:

“Bank of America has successfully completed more modifications for our customers in need of assistance than any other servicer under the Home Affordable Modification Program. We continue to demonstrate our commitment to assisting customers who are at risk of foreclosure and, at best, these attorneys are painting a false picture of the bank’s practices and the dedication of our employees. While we will address the declarations in more depth when we file our opposition to plaintiffs’ motion next month, suffice it is to say that each of the declarations is rife with factual inaccuracies.”

If this all sounds a little familiar, it might be because it's not the first story on HAMP-related complaints against Bank of America. Last year, for example, Reuters reported that a Colorado man, Gregory Mackler, who worked for a company contracted by Bank of America to handle HAMP work, filed a whistleblower complaint in federal court. Mackler's company was called Urban Lending Solutions, according to the Reuters story.
"While working at Urban Lending, Mackler said he saw BofA and its loan servicing subsidiary, BAC Homes Loans Servicing LP, implement 'business practices designed to intentionally prevent scores of eligible homeowners from becoming eligible or staying eligible for permanent HAMP modification.' 
The bank and its agents routinely pretended to have lost homeowners' documents, failed to credit payments during trial modifications and intentionally misled homeowners about their eligibility for the program, the complaint alleged."

For more details on this story, which ran in the Observer over the weekend, click here.

N.C. Bankers Association names new board chairman

The North Carolina Bankers Association said it has named Ron Black, president and CEO of Bank of Oak Ridge, as its new board chairman.

Black was named chairman during the association's annual meeting in Hot Springs, Va, last week.

He has served as president and CEO of the Oak Ridge-based community bank since its founding in April 2000, the bankers association said.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

NewBridge acquiring Security Savings Bank

Greensboro's NewBridge Bancorp will buy coastal North Carolina's Security Savings Bank in a transaction that won't involve payment, NewBridge announced Thursday.

Security Savings Bank, based in Southport, has six branches and a loan office in Brunswick County. NewBridge says it will take on the bank's assets and loans but will not pay a premium. The bank said it anticipates the deal will be ordered by the N.C. Commissioner of Banks. 

The deal, which is expected to close in the third quarter, will make NewBridge a $2 billion in asset bank.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Fifth Third nabs Charlotte banker for executive officer position

Fifth Third Bank has named Charlotte banker Frank Forrest to be its new chief risk and credit officer, the Cincinnati bank said this week.

Forrest has worked at Bank of America here in Charlotte in a number of risk management and commercial banking positions over the past 27 years. Before that, he was a bank examiner at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

In his new role, Forrest will report directly to Fifth Third CEO Kevin Kabat -- making him one of the bank's highest-ranking executives.

Clearview Wealth Management opens in SouthPark

Charlotte is home to a new wealth-management company.

Clearview Wealth Management said Tuesday that it has opened an office in SouthPark at 2115 Rexford Road.

A spokeswoman said the office has four full-time employees and that the company was created in February.

According to a press release, Eric Clark, Cheryl Sherrard and Treven Ayers formed the fee-only firm. All three are veterans of Rinehart Wealth Management.

Bank of America done cutting revenue generators, CFO says

Make money for Bank of America? Your group shouldn't be on the chopping block anymore, Chief Financial Officer Bruce Thompson says.

Bank of America is done targeting revenue generators as the bank continues through its massive cost cutting plan known as Project New BAC, Thompson said at an investor conference early this morning at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, according to a Bloomberg transcript.

Instead, the focus has shifted to back-office operations and support, he said.

"The remaining work to be done with the New BAC does not touch client facing people at all," Thompson said. "There should not be any revenue degradation because we're not touching the people that are responsible for originating revenues."

Expenses continue to be one of Bank of America's top priorities, nearly two years after launching Project New BAC. In an unscientific poll taken at the conference before Thompson spoke, more than half of the investors and analysts in attendance said costs were their top issue.

The bank is down more than 27,000 jobs since it began that September, including 4,000 in the first quarter. Bank of America has eliminated about $1 billion in quarterly expenses.

The company has also been under pressure to start increasing its revenue. To that end, the bank has added hundreds of small business bankers and bankers that deal with affluent customers.

"If we do this the way that we believe that we will, we should start to see revenues push forward not backward with the expense initiatives," Thompson said.

Bankers association goes farther out for meetings, but not ready for Bahamas yet

Five years ago, as the financial crisis was escalating, the North Carolina Bankers Association held its annual convention in the Bahamas, a place many Americans losing their homes to foreclosure would likely have been unable to afford to visit at the time.

Running June 21-25, 2008, the meeting at The Atlantis resort on Paradise Island took place three months after news that JPMorgan Chase agreed to save troubled investment bank Bear Stearns and two months before the federal government would take over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

“Set amidst the lush tropical splendor of the Caribbean, The Atlantis is an exhilarating adventure of thrills and discoveries!” read the association’s announcement to its members about the trip. “Interact with the sea’s most playful inhabitants. Plunge from great heights into an azure pool. Experience culinary delights surrounded by nature’s most beautiful wonders.”

It was a trip planned at least the year before, when the economy was in better shape. Since then, the association hasn’t returned to the Bahamas, opting instead to hold its conventions no more than one state away from North Carolina. For example, the group’s 2013 meeting, which is taking place this week, is being held in Hot Springs, Va., at The Homestead resort.

But in recent years, the association has been venturing farther for the trips. Last year’s was in the beach resort community of Hilton Head, S.C., and 2011’s was also at The Homestead.

It’s still no lush tropical splendor, but it's a change from 2009’s convention at The Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill and 2010’s at Hilton Charlotte University Place, locations that projected a more frugal tone at a time when the banking industry was under heavy public scrutiny as the economy was coming undone.

In an email Monday, Nathan Batts, counsel for the association, pointed out that his group has been focused on keeping the costs of the trips low and holding them in places that are within driving distance.

"While the economy is now doing well in many areas and showing growth, there are large parts of our state that have yet to recover," he wrote. "Like our members, the NCBA has become increasingly focused on cost efficiencies, over the past five years especially."

Registration per delegate for the 2013 trip cost $525, with prices higher if spouses attend. Rooms at The Homestead start at $340 per day for a single, according to the association's meeting packet.

Lissa Lamkin Broome, director of the Center for Banking and Finance at UNC School of Law in Chapel Hill, said the scale of the association’s trips are “sort of following the economy.” After the Bahamas trip, the association chose “much more modest and much more local” venues, she said.

The conventions are part business, part diversion. This year’s event includes banking presidents as speakers, as well as a mixology class.

Batts is not ruling out having future meetings that might require a longer drive or even a plane trip.

“We may consider travel to a location that is farther away in future years to give our members some variety, since this is the one meeting of the year that we sometimes go out of state,” he wrote in an email, “but we will do so after analysis of many factors and careful negotiation of the costs.

"We are getting back to a point of normalcy, where being out of the office for an extended period is feasible, but, even if my association chooses to travel a more extended distance in future years, we will do so only after some extensive negotiations to keep the costs down.”

So, no island paradise for now. But there's always the chance that the mixology class will teach this year's attendees how to make Bahama Mamas.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Wells Fargo rolls out new website

Wells Fargo's new website has gone live, with a streamlined design centered around goals like home ownership, college savings, retirement and information security.

Shannon Lundgren
The new design is the culmination of about two years of work, which began shortly after Wells Fargo fully brought on Charlotte-based Wachovia onto its system, Shannon Lundgren, Wells vice president for product management, digital sales and service told the Observer on Monday.

That meant the combined Wells Fargo had a number of new products to integrate onto the website, which now gets about 60 million unique visitors per month.

The bank decided to go with an approach less product-centered and more information- and solution-centered, Lundgren said. For example, a section devoted to going to college will have pieces on budgeting and financial aid, as well as products ranging from renters insurance to student loans. Before, all of that would have been much more dispersed across the site, Lundgren said.

The site is also optimized for tablet computers. When viewed on a tablet, more features will use swipes over clicks, and have larger click targets, Lundgren said.

A fairly large team worked on the site, including employees in Charlotte and San Francisco. Wells Fargo has been preparing for the roll-out for a number of weeks. Last month, Wells had promised "sweeping changes" to the site in the coming weeks. Some of the bank's communications staff have been tweeting about the site with the hashtag #WFNewSite.

Bank websites, including Wells Fargo's, have most recently been in the news after strings of cyberattacks that have slowed them down to a crawl. Lundgren said this new design dealt with user experience, not infrastructure, but said that the bank has been steadily improving its security.

Pittenger to file bill that would repeal part of Dodd-Frank

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger is planning to file a bill this week that would repeal a part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law that requires banks to collect demographic data on small business loan applicants.

The section is intended to allow regulators to make sure banks aren't discriminating against minorities or women who are looking for capital for their businesses. That's already against the law. Similar data is already kept on mortgage applicants.

But Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican, said the additional requirement is burdensome, unnecessary, and that the government should not be in the business of dictating to banks who they should lend to.

"Let’s get back to the basics and let bankers be bankers," he said. "Frankly, the only issue that banks ought to be involved in is if somebody is creditworthy."

The portion of Dodd-Frank known as Section 1071 was cited by bank executives as an area of concern not long after the law was passed in 2010. They've argued that banks would lose the flexibility to structure commercial loans in the most reasonable way, in an effort to avoid the appearance of favoring one borrower over another. While mortgages are more or less a commodity, bankers say business loans can vary dramatically from one to the other.

Supporters of the provision, like current U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, say it's an important tool to monitor fair lending practices.

Pittenger said the bill is not intended to take away from fair lending oversight, but he denied that discrimination in loans is a problem. He said existing laws are already sufficient to make sure it's not happening.

He also said the provision would lead regulators to pressure banks to lend to people who aren't creditworthy.

"The government shouldn't be involved in forcing a social agenda on lending institutions," he said. "That’s how we got in that mess to begin with, we were loaning money to people that weren't creditworthy."

Pittenger is in his first term in Congress, representing south Charlotte, west and north Mecklenburg County and parts of Union and Iredell counties in a seat formerly held by Sue Myrick.

Pittenger serves on the House Financial Services Committee, and has been involved in the committee's hearings related to changing the Federal Housing Administration. He's also been vocally against the Dodd-Frank law and has called for ratcheting back "oppressive" bank regulations.

He served on the board of Charlotte-based Park Meridian Bank before it was acquired by Regions Financial in 2001. Pittenger said he's heard from a number of community banks worried about this provision in Dodd-Frank.

CommunityOne exits consent order, completes merger

CommunityOne Bank is no longer under a consent order with federal regulators, and has completed its merger with the Bank of Granite, the bank's parent company announced Monday.

FNB United, based in Asheboro, had been working to combine the two banks since they were pushed together in a 2011 recapitalization meant to save the two struggling banks. Executives have focused on using the $310 million to clean up the balance sheet.

The combination gained speed earlier this year when Granite Falls-based Bank of Granite got out from under its consent order, which had been issued in 2009 as capital levels plunged. Regulators gave the merger final approval in May.

CommunityOne's consent order was issued in June 2010. With its termination, the bank is classified as well-capitalized, the bank said.

The merger of CommunityOne and Bank of Granite was formally completed just after midnight Saturday. Bank of Granite's branches are now operated as CommunityOne. Branches were consolidated in Boone, Cornelius, Hickory, Statesville and Wilkesboro.

"We are excited that the merger is complete," CEO Brian Simpson said in a statement. "This transaction was the last step in our goal to successfully integrate CommunityOne and Granite, and is critical to our return to profitability during the second half of the year. We are also pleased that the OCC terminated the Consent Order. This action is confirmation that we are improving our financial condition and positioning our franchise to better serve our customers throughout our footprint."

CommunityOne now has 55 branches across central and western North Carolina. Bank of Granite had two Charlotte branches, uptown and in SouthPark.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Ray Grace confirmed as N.C. banking commissioner

Ray Grace has been confirmed as banking commissioner for North Carolina.

A joint resolution for his confirmation cleared the state's House of Representatives Wednesday and was ratified Thursday.

Grace was named acting banking commissioner after Joseph Smith, in February 2012, resigned to oversee the roughly $25 billion national mortgage settlement.

For more information on the resolution, click here.

BB&T unveils 'concise' disclosures for accounts

BB&T is providing customers with streamlined disclosures for its accounts and fees, patterning the breakdowns on a template recommended two years ago by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Winston-Salem-based bank said Thursday.

In doing so, the bank joins others that have changed their forms after a 2011 report by the Philadelphia-based think tank found that the median length of banks' disclosures for checking account policies and fees was 111 pages. Pew, which said it reviewed checking accounts offered online by the 10 biggest banks in the U.S., also found that banks' disclosures for accounts and fees were not in a concise and easy-to-understand format.

On its website, Pew lists seven financial institutions that it "commends ... for voluntarily adopting our disclosure box." At the time this blog posting was published, BB&T was not on the list, but Raleigh-based State Employees' Credit Union was. No other North Carolina-based banks made the list.

Bank of America in August introduced disclosures that it said are based on Pew's recommendations.

Donna Goodrich, deposit services manager for BB&T, said in a statement Thursday that the bank's new disclosures are a "concise resource designed to help consumers thoroughly understand each deposit product we offer, avoid fees and compare our products to others in the market."

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

SunTrust wants more branches in Charlotte region

At a time when many banks are shuttering branches across the country, SunTrust Banks is considering putting more in the Charlotte area.

SunTrust acquired branches in Charlotte  and in other parts of North Carolina  after it bought Memphis, Tenn.-based National Commerce Financial Corp., parent company of Central Carolina Bank, in 2004.

Since then, SunTrust has failed to grow its deposits enough to rank higher than sixth place in the city of Charlotte and fifth place in North Carolina, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data.

In an interview with the Observer this week, Bill Peele, president of the Atlanta bank's Mecklenburg/South Carolina region since 2011, said he wants to grow the bank's market share in the Charlotte area. To that end, the bank could use additional branches in some pockets of the region, he said.

Specifically, SunTrust is eyeing sites in the Lake Norman area and just across the South Carolina border, he said.

SunTrust already has branches in the Lake Norman region, including in the towns of Huntersville and Mooresville, but "we actually could use a few more up there," Peele said.

"Then we'd like to head over the border to South Carolina into York and Lancaster (counties)," he said.

"There are some markets that we're not in that are growing ... that we'd like to be in."

Peele wouldn't say exactly how many branches the bank wants to add. But as for the city of Charlotte, the bank has enough branches there, he said.

In Mecklenburg County, SunTrust has 19 branches, according to federal data. Bank of America, with 39, has the most in the county.

SunTrust has 0.37 percent of the deposits in the county, putting it behind Raleigh-based First Citizens Bank, which is at No. 5 with 0.49 percent. SunTrust's deposits in the county total $712.4 million.

It's unclear when SunTrust might open more branches in the Charlotte region. Peele said SunTrust, like other banks, must watch expenses while trying to grow revenue.

Last year, SunTrust's net income available to shareholders was $1.9 billion, or $3.59 per average diluted common share, up from $495 million, or 94 cents per share, in 2011.

SunTrust said its assets totaled $172.4 billion as of March 31.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Ray Grace confirmation vote could come today

Ray Grace might be confirmed Tuesday as banking commissioner for North Carolina.

The state House of Representatives has scheduled a vote on a joint resolution for his confirmation, which has cleared the Senate.

Grace was named acting banking commissioner after Joseph Smith, in February 2012, resigned to oversee the roughly $25 billion national mortgage settlement.

Bank of America joins group pushing tax reform

Bank of America is one of 42 companies that have banded together into an organization lobbying for corporate tax reform, according to an announcement from the group Tuesday.

The Alliance for Competitive Taxation will push for lowering the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, from the 35 percent it is now. They'll advocate for it to be paid for by eliminating some tax breaks, without specifying yet what those are. Their goal is to create jobs and allow American companies to "compete in today's global economy," as the alliance puts it.

The issue has been reinvigorated in recent weeks by the debate over Apple Inc.'s use of overseas subsidiaries to keep profits from being taxed in the U.S. If money is kept offshore, and not brought back to the U.S., it isn't taxed by the federal government. Bank of America, for example, has $17.2 billion in foreign earnings kept overseas, the Observer found last week.

No other Charlotte companies appear on the list backing the Alliance for Competitve Taxation. The group did not disclose how much money each business put in. It has yet to record any lobbying expenses, according to public records.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Bank of America $8.5B settlement hearing begins

Bank of America’s acquisition of Countrywide Financial Corp. has turned out to be the purchase that’s kept on giving — more litigation, that is.

But the bank could soon find out whether it will finally get to put to rest a big piece of unfinished legal business stemming from its ill-fated purchase of the lender whose mortgage loans contributed to the financial crisis.

On Monday in New York Supreme Court, a hearing began on a proposed $8.5 billion Bank of America settlement with those who invested in bonds backed by Countrywide loans.

While Bank of America is a frequent target of lawsuits — as most large companies are — and has already agreed to billions of dollars in settlements since the economic downturn, investors and analysts have been following the $8.5 billion settlement.

“This is clearly the largest single litigation item, or potential litigation cost, at Bank of America that we know about,” David Hilder, an analyst for Drexel Hamilton, said.

If the settled were approved, it would mean the Charlotte-based bank gets to bury one more very costly headache that surfaced since the downturn. Bank of America’s success at moving past such expensive liabilities is important for shareholders who have been concerned about the bank’s earnings being held back by settlements struck since the Great Recession.

“It would be recognized as a big win for Bank of America," Dan Marchon, an analyst for Raymond James & Associates, told the Observer.

A rejection of the settlement by the judge, Barbara Kapnick, analysts say, would create uncertainty over how much Bank of America might end up paying to satisfy the investors.

"If the settlement is tossed out ... resolution of the matter could be much more expensive for the bank," Mark Palmer, an analyst with BTIG Research, wrote Monday.

Marchon said a rejection of the settlement would be viewed as a negative for Bank of America.

“How negative depends on the reasoning and guidance that we get with the dismissal,” he said.

In addition to the $8.5 billion cash settlement, Bank of America, in its latest annual report, said that it expects to pay roughly $100 million in attorneys fees and other costs related to the case.

The settlement was reached with 22 institutional investors who accuse Countrywide of, among other things, originating home loans that did not comply with the company’s own underwriting guidelines.

The Bank of New York Mellon is the trustee seeking approval of the settlement, which dates to June 2011.

It’s unclear when a ruling might be handed down, although it is expected to take weeks.

The settlement has its objectors. American International Group is among those opposed to it.

In court papers, AIG has said the settlement "is a fraction of the $108 billion in losses" to investors.

Bank of America, when contacted by the Observer Monday, declined to comment.

The start of the hearing comes a month after Bank of America agreed to pay $1.6 billion in cash to MBIA as part of a settlement over mortgage-backed securities tied to Countrywide.

Bank of America shares fell 0.81 percent Friday to $13.55.

Hilder, of Drexel Hamilton, said it’s too early to say how approval of the $8.5 billion settlement could affect Bank of America’s stock.

“The stock could go up by a significant amount if this is finally approved, and then we would look back and say, ‘Wow. The market was more worried about failure to get approval than I had thought.’”

At $8.5 billion, the settlement is twice what Bank of America earned in 2012.