World News

Bank of America gives dour economic outlook, profit falls

By Noor Zainab Hussain and Imani Moise

(Reuters) – Bank of America Corp <BAC.N> reported a 48.5% drop in first-quarter net income on Wednesday, warning that it anticipated a recession because of the novel coronavirus and setting aside an additional $3.6 billion to cover potential losses.

The second-largest U.S. bank by assets, a bellwether of the economy, said it analysed a number of recessionary scenarios in arriving at the view that economic output would drop significantly in the second quarter.

The bank’s analysis showed growth would recover slowly from the second quarter, “with negative growth rates in GDP extending well into 2021,” Chief Financial Officer Paul Donofrio said.

Bank of America’s shares fell 7% to $22.07.

Bank of America joined other major Wall Street banks in their dour outlook on the economy, providing new details about the impact sweeping lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus have had on the economy.

Other major lenders, including JPMorgan Chase & Co <JPM.N>, Citigroup Inc <C.N> and Wells Fargo & Co <WFC.N>, also bulked up reserves to absorb potential losses.

Including BofA’s reserve build of $3.6 billion, the top four U.S. lenders have set aside a combined $14.2 billion in loan loss provisions. BofA’s total provisions is more than three times its actual first-quarter loan losses of $1.1 billion.

In recent days, amid signs that the spread of coronavirus may be peaking in some areas, governments have started examining when and how they should re-open the economy. Investors and economists are also debating what an eventual recovery would look like.

In a call with analysts, Bank of America Chief Executive Brian Moynihan said the bank was still waiting for signs that the situation was stabilizing.

The bank had seen lower demand for loans from businesses such as credit cards and mortgages through the first two weeks of April compared with the levels in February, before the coronavirus crisis hit United States with full force, Moynihan said.

“We’re watching to see these stabilize at some level of activity,” Moynihan said. “And we’ll keep watching that as states, cities and the federal government focuses on reopening the economy.”

CFO Donofrio, however, said a rush by companies to get loans as they worried about their ability to meet immediate cash needs like payrolls had peaked in March and returned to normal levels in the first week of April.

Bank of America said it extend an additional $57 billion in loans, or a 6% increase during the quarter.

Overall, net income applicable to common shareholders fell to $3.54 billion, or 40 cents per share, in the first quarter, coming in below the 46 cents per share predicted by analysts, according to Refinitiv data.

Net interest income declined 2% to $12.1 billion, as interest rates fell.

Sales and trading revenue, excluding certain valuation adjustments, increased 22% to $4.3 billion, with higher revenues in both fixed income and equities. The bank said it increased its global markets balance sheet by $130 billion in early March compared with the year-end to help manage record-breaking market activity.

Bank of America, which was the first major bank to participate in the U.S. Treasury’s $349-billion small business rescue program, said it started accepting applications within hours of the official launch.

The bank’s wealth management arm shifted about 700 advisers to field client inquiries about the U.S. government’s $2.3 trillion economic stimulus package.

The bank said it received 279,000 small business loan applications through April 8 under the Paycheck Protection Program, totalling $43 billion.

(Reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru and Imani Moise in New York; Editing by Lauren Tara LaCapra, Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Nick Zieminski)