BofA’s Trading Unit Falls Short of Rivals During Bumper Year

Bank of America Corp.’s traders had a good year -- but not as good as their rivals.

Revenue from sales and trading rose 7% to $3.06 billion in the fourth quarter, missing analysts’ $3.15 billion forecast. The division, helmed by Jim DeMare, was boosted by equities but saw a weaker trading performance in fixed income, currencies and commodities, driven by macro products and mortgages, the bank said in a statement. Competitors JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., meanwhile, reaped windfalls from frenetic trading and volatile markets during the pandemic.

“With the change in interest-rate environment, I think you could see a lot of activity in FICC, so I don’t think there’s a reason to think it’s going to decline dramatically from here,” Chief Financial Officer Paul Donofrio said Tuesday on a call with reporters. “As long as the equity markets stay robust, you could see significant activity in 2021” for equity issuance, while the pace of bond issuance will probably slow this year with many companies having boosted liquidity and paid down debt.

BofA’s Trading Unit Falls Short of Rivals During Bumper Year

Investment bankers and traders have carried the load for their firms in the past year as consumer divisions came under pressure from the Covid-19 outbreak that shut down businesses and put millions out of work. After setting aside tens of billions of dollars to cover potential loan losses during the crisis, the largest lenders have fared surprisingly well. They even got approval last month from the Federal Reserve to buy back shares.

Bank of America said its board authorized the repurchase of $2.9 billion of shares through March, the most allowed under Fed guidelines.

BofA’s Trading Unit Falls Short of Rivals During Bumper Year

Bank of America shares were little changed at $32.99 at 11:15 a.m. in New York.

Investment-banking fees jumped 26% to $1.86 billion, beating the $1.62 billion estimate. The division, led by Matthew Koder, benefited from equity underwriting and mergers-and-acquisitions fees during the quarter. It posted record fees for the full year, fueled by three of the strongest quarters in company history.

“We saw a significant gain in our investment-banking market share,” particularly among middle-market clients, Chief Executive Officer Brian Moynihan told analysts on a conference call. “This has been a multiyear effort” of hiring and connecting investment and commercial bankers across the country.

The Charlotte, North Carolina-based company’s net interest income, or revenue from customer loan payments minus what the company pays depositors, decreased 16% to $10.3 billion. NII in the second half of this year will probably improve compared with the first half, according to the company.

“We’ve got to work it back up from here,” Moynihan said. “It’s a four- or five-quarter fight.”

Consumer banking continued to weigh on results. Net income for the unit fell 17% to $2.6 billion, under pressure from lower interest rates and higher health and safety costs. But executives reiterated their optimistic stance.

“We continued to see signs of a recovery, led by increased consumer spending, stabilizing loan demand by our commercial customers, and strong markets and investing activity,” Moynihan said in the statement. “The latest stimulus package, continued progress on vaccines and our talented teammates -- who performed well helping their customers through this crisis -- position us well as the recovery continues.”

Also in the fourth-quarter results:

  • The efficiency ratio, a measure of profitability, improved to 69% from 71% in the third quarter.
  • Net income fell to $5.47 billion from $7 billion a year earlier. It exceeded the $4.9 billion estimate of 12 analysts. Per-share earnings of 59 cents beat analysts’ 55-cent forecast. For the full year, net income fell 35% to $17.9 billion.
  • Total revenue decreased about 10% to $20.1 billion.

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