CHARLOTTE, N.C. If the 77 percent drop in Bank of America's first-quarter earnings is any indication, the economy may have a long way to go before it works out the problems that began with the subprime mortgage crisis.
The nation's largest retail bank on Monday quintupled the money it set aside for loans that go sour, and hinted that consumer weakness and the housing slump means that things will not get better for it, or for the economy, for some time.
"I think first it would be too early to strike up the band and sing happy days are here again," Chief Executive Ken Lewis said on a conference call with analysts during which he said the situation in the capital markets was particularly tough in March.
Charlotte-based Bank of America's write-downs, largely in part due to more and more people missing payments on their credit cards and home loans, led it to report a 77 percent decline in first-quarter profit of $1.21 billion, or 23 cents a share, on $17 billion in revenue. That compared with net income of $5.26 billion, or $1.16 a share, a year earlier on $18.16 billion in revenue.
Bank of America's results included $1.47 billion in write-downs of collateralized debt obligations, a security often backed by subprime mortgage loans, and $439 million for loans to fund leveraged buyouts.
The bank's provision for credit losses soared to $6.01 billion from $1.24 billion amid rising credit costs in the home-equity, small-business and homebuilder portfolios. Net charge-offs, loans it doesn't think are collectable, rose to $2.72 billion, up from $1.43 billion a year ago, reflecting housing market decline.