Most of the operations that constitute Bank of America today were created through a series of mergers and buyouts, including the acquisition of FleetBoston in 2003 and credit card giant MBNA in 2005. These and other deals were engineered by Ken Lewis, who became CEO in 2001. By 2007, he had succeeded in making Bank of America the largest bank in the US by deposits. But Lewis became overzealous as he tried to make the bank even larger.
As the financial system was heading toward near-collapse, Bank of America bought crippled mortgage bank Countrywide Financial in January 2008 and deeply troubled investment bank Merrill Lynch in September of that year. Bank of America’s financial troubles multiplied so rapidly that it was forced to take much more TARP money than most other large US banks — $45 billion. Lewis’s risk-taking eventually was part of the reason the federal government pressed the bank to add outside directors who had been regulators or heads of successful banks. In June 2009, four new directors were appointed, including a former member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and a former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Lewis was out by the end of the year, and Brian Moynihan replaced him.
But Moynihan’s tenure has been even more disastrous than Lewis’s. JPMorgan (NYSE: JPM) passed B of A in assets to become the largest bank in the US. Crippling losses caused B of A to announce it would cut more than 30,000 jobs. In late 2011, a $50 billion class action suit was filed against B of A based on the lack of disclosures made when it bought Merrill Lynch. Bank of America has also been the target of several mortgage fraud suits, and entered into a settlement which cost it and four other large US banks a combined $25 billion.
B of A still faces legal and balance sheet problems, which may force it to raise tens of billions of dollars. This will undermine the share price. The final and most difficult challenge is its exposure to the US real estate market, which is unparalleled among its peers. This, in addition to the unhealed scars from poor management and the global financial collapse, have left Bank of America limping along.
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