Bank of America sees loan growth after first drop in six years
(Reuters) – Executives at Bank of America Corp said on Tuesday they were optimistic the bank could return to loan growth this year, after the coronavirus pandemic resulted in an annual reduction in its loan portfolio for the first time since 2014.
Total loans and leases from America’s second-largest bank slipped 6% in 2020. Appetite for new loans declined during the pandemic as customers spent less and saved more and large corporations counted in the capital markets rather than their bank.
But bank executives have said on calls they are starting to see signs of a rebound if the COVID-19 pandemic continues to subside.
“We are emerging from this health crisis,” CFO Paul Donofrio said on a conference call with reporters. “We should be able to develop NII because we are adding deposits and loans.”
The bank’s net interest income (NII), a key measure of how much it can earn on loans, fell 16% in the fourth quarter.
Lower rates meant to support the economy during the pandemic have limited the amount banks can charge for their lending services, while fiscal stimulus packages and declining consumer confidence have eased demand for loans. As a result, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup each saw double-digit overall revenue declines this month.
The NII edged up from a low point in the third quarter of 2020 and will continue to rise in 2021 with the biggest gains in the last half of the year, Donofrio said.
Megabank peers Wells Fargo and Citigroup said last week that the NII could drop 4% due to the lowest interest rates reported by Fed officials, which would remain in place throughout the year , while JPMorgan forecast modest growth in 2021.
Strengthening the bank’s optimistic outlook is a sign of improving the financial health of its customers.
Consumer and small business transaction volume at America’s second-largest bank managed to grow 2% in 2020 despite dropping 21% to an all-time high as the coronavirus gripped the US economy in spring.
Debit card spending jumped 12% in the quarter, as customers who spent less during the lockdown reopened their wallets over the holidays, the bank said.
Underlining its confidence in the economy, the bank joined with peers JPMorgan Chase & Co and Citigroup Inc to release $ 828 million from its reserves to cover bad debts after adding more than $ 8 billion over the years. first three quarters of the year.
About 75% of the release of reserves is tied to the bank’s consumer portfolio, with customers entering the new year in better financial health than expected due to the fiscal stimulus. The release of trade reserves was mainly due to a decline in industries heavily affected by the pandemic.
Revenue from its sales and trading activities grew 7%, but underperformed its peers as its fixed income trading desk missed estimates.
Net income applicable to common shareholders fell to $ 5.21 billion, or 59 cents per share, for the quarter ended Dec. 31, from $ 6.75 billion, or 74 cents per share, a year earlier.
Analysts on average expected earnings of 55 cents per share, according to Refinitiv’s IBES estimate, helped by lower credit costs. Shares advanced 1.2%.
Separately, America’s second-largest bank said its board approved a $ 3.2 billion share buyback program in the first quarter.
Reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru and Imani Moise in New York; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Nick Zieminski