Bank of America aims to flip sales trend
The bank is trying to meet analysts' revenue projections after three quarters of declining sales.
By Lauren Tara LaCapra, TheStreet
Wall Street wants Bank of America (BAC) to get back on a growth trajectory, but it's unclear whether the firm will deliver on sales expectations with its first-quarter results next week.
Bank of America's revenue shrank by 11%, on average, in each of the previous three quarters. The drop reflected an easing of the early-2009 mortgage-refinancing wave, seasonal patterns and declines in its U.S. consumer business -- the bread and butter of B of A.
When compared to other big competitors with similar business lines, the difference is startling. JPMorgan Chase (JPM) disappointed investors with its fourth-quarter revenue, but revenue shrank by an average of 2.2% in the last three periods of 2009. Wells Fargo (WFC), known for its strong core revenue generation, posted average quarterly growth of 2.7%.
Analysts expect Bank of America to report a profit of 9 cents per share on revenue of $27.6 billion, according to Thomson Reuters. That would represent more than 10% growth from the fourth-quarter lull. Analysts foresee moderate sequential growth throughout the rest of 2010, but growth nonetheless: 2.9%, 0.7% and 1.7% in the second through fourth quarters.
Bank of America is trying hard to meet or exceed those goals. Now that its long-time piggy bank -- the U.S. consumer -- is drained of potential, Bank of America has shifted its focus to other areas.
Chief executive Brian Moynihan has outlined a new business strategy to tap emerging markets where financial services are limited, as well as the investment banking and wealth management capabilities of the combined Bank of America-Merrill Lynch franchise. While it hasn't officially announced any plans to relocate headquarters, there has been chatter about Moynihan spending most of his time in New York and Boston offices, closer to the clients he's targeting.
The Charlotte, N.C.-based bank is also whittling down money-losing business lines, like credit cards, auto loans, home equity loans, and anything subprime. The bank won't confirm reported plans to cut 10% of its branch network, but has been installing fancy ATMs that print images of check deposits and talk. It's also urging customers to use online banking rather than call or visit brick-and-mortar locations.
Essentially, while Bank of America is still an ubiquitous American brand, it isn't targeting Average Joe anymore; it's targeting his wealthy uncle, or his underbanked cousins abroad.
The firm has made progress on some fronts: Bank of America ranked high in the first-quarter league tables, and has hired key executives to grow its corporate and investment banking businesses. But will it be able to meet or exceed Wall Street expectations for the first quarter? At least one analyst thinks expectations are far too bullish.
Deutsche Bank's Matt O'Connor broke down the apparent effects of Bank of America's business-strategy shift, as well as regulatory changes that will break off huge chunks of revenue this year. Among those are the elimination of overdraft fees and changes to certain credit-card practices. Bank of America estimated in 2009 that the changes will sap between $1.4 billion and $1.6 billion in revenue per year, until it figures out where to stick new fees.
In a note last week, O'Connor estimates that changes to overdraft and credit card policies, as well as the wind-down of some loan portfolios and other adjustments, will slash 26% from his earlier prediction of Bank of America's "normalized" earnings per share. And whereas O'Connor had pegged that EPS estimate at $2.82, and cut it down to $2.09, per share, he says most other analysts are targeting a profit in the $3-to-$3.50 per share range. O'Connor implies that some may be looking just at Bank of America's growth potential, and underestimating the other side of the coin.
Nonetheless, Bank of America's stock soared 18.5% during the first three months of the year, to close out the quarter at $17.85. It has tacked on another 64 cents, or 3.6%, since then.
The run-up may bear major fruit for Bank of America shareholders if the firm can prove its revenue capabilities early on, but it's still a risky bet. Last earnings season, investors showed the industry that stabilization, and even profit beats, weren't enough; they wanted top-line growth. Bank stocks were hammered for a time because of revenue disappointments, despite the clear stabilization in loan books that investors had long sought.
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