Bank of America in `Hand-to-Hand Combat' Over Mortgage Disputes, CEO Says

Bank of America Corp. Chief Executive Officer Brian T. Moynihan said resolving investor demands for refunds over faulty mortgages is a battle that will last at least several more quarters.

“It’s a day-to-day, hand-to-hand combat,” Moynihan said today during an investor conference held by the lender in New York. “It’s manageable in the context of who we are, but we’re not going to spend your money unwisely.”

Moynihan’s comments highlight the tensions between Bank of America, the biggest U.S. lender, and clients who bought its mortgages or bet on securities backed by home loans. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based company faces demands to repurchase almost $13 billion of loans that may have failed to document required data such as income and home values.

Bank of America has said it would review claims “loan-by- loan” to protect shareholders as Fannie Mae, bond insurers and private investors press for so-called putbacks. Some of the claims stem from loans made by Countrywide Financial Corp., the mortgage lender Bank of America acquired in 2008.

“There’s a lot of people out there with a lot of thoughts about how we should solve this, but at the end of the day, we’ll pay for the things that Countrywide did,” said Moynihan, 51.

Legal Action

The bank’s resistance has rankled lawmakers and business partners, with Dominic Frederico, CEO of Assured Guaranty Ltd., saying in August that settlement talks with BofA were “like Chinese water torture.” In an August letter to President Barack Obama, Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who leads the House Financial Services Committee, said the battle to get refunds “should be fought with every tool” to ensure that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac recover money from banks on improperly written loans.

Insurers are negotiating repurchases and suing firms including Bank of America as they seek to recover from losses on mortgage-security guarantees. The bank is the largest servicer of U.S. home mortgages and second-biggest originator of loans after Wells Fargo & Co.

The company expects costs tied to resolving loan disputes averaging $500 million each quarter for “the next couple of years or so,” according to an Oct. 19 conference call.

Bank of America declined 22 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $11.88 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading at 9:52 a.m. The lender has slipped 21 percent this year, while the 24- company KBW Bank Index has gained 9.6 percent.

Foreclosures Resume

The bank said last month it would start resubmitting foreclosure affidavits in 102,000 cases in which judgment is pending. Under pressure from lawmakers and state officials, bankers had been delaying action until they could answer allegations that filings were marred by so-called robosigning, in which employees vouched for the accuracy of court filings without personally checking loan records.

Flaws in Bank of America’s foreclosure paperwork haven’t caused the lender to seize any homes improperly, Barbara Desoer, president of the company’s home-loan division, said in testimony prepared for the Senate Banking Committee.

Desoer is among at least seven banking officials who will face lawmakers’ questions today and Thursday in the first congressional hearings on problems with foreclosure documents that surfaced publicly in September. Also scheduled to testify today is David Lowman, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s home loan division.

Economic Outlook

“Thus far we have confirmed the basis for our foreclosure decisions has been accurate,” Desoer said in her prepared testimony. “At the same time, however, we have not found a perfect process.”

Bank of America, which gets more than three-quarters of its revenue from the U.S., is a “mirror” to the domestic economy, Moynihan said this month. The U.S. is in a slow rebound as consumer spending and commercial lending improve, he said today.

“Everything we see points to a continued recovery, albeit a slow recovery,” Moynihan said. “We continue to see delinquencies improve in all our products across the board.”

The bank has posted three unprofitable quarters since the beginning of 2009 as new regulations pressure fee income and unemployment holds near 10 percent, limiting customers’ ability to repay debts. The firm reported a $7.3 billion third-quarter loss tied to new rules on credit cards and consumer accounts.

To contact the reporter on this story: Hugh Son in New York at hson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rick Green in New York at rgreen18@bloomberg.net; Dan Kraut at dkraut2@bloomberg.net.

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