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‘Frisky’ Borrowers With Better Credit Hearten BofA, Wells

Bank of America Corp. is counting on “more frisky” borrowers and Wells Fargo & Co. expects continued gains in credit quality to make 2014 “incrementally” better for their industry.

Brian T. Moynihan, the chief executive officer at Bank of America, told analysts in New York today that loan growth was hard to achieve in 2013 because the economy was weak and business customers could just draw on unused lines of credit. With “much more solid” housing and consumer spending under way, business owners may boost their own activity and increase demand for credit, he said.

“The average business person we talk to is getting incrementally more frisky,” Moynihan said, echoing Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf’s forecast for a better economy in 2014.

While Wells Fargo won’t have a “breakout year,” Stumpf told the gathering today during a separate presentation that credit quality could continue to improve longer than some people in the industry had expected. Stumpf said he’s optimistic in part because of encouraging signs about U.S. job growth and efforts to reach a budget agreement, and housing starts could top 1 million. His San Francisco-based company ranks No. 1 in U.S. mortgages and small-business lending.

Investors are looking for signs that banks can increase revenue after years of sluggish growth and new costs imposed by regulations designed to prevent a repeat of the 2008 credit crisis. Five U.S. agencies are set to sign off today on the Volcker rule’s ban on proprietary trading, which could pinch profit and require more monitoring of holdings.

The rule’s impact on Bank of America, the second-largest U.S. lender by assets, won’t be dramatic because the Charlotte, North Carolina-based company has been getting out of the affected businesses for years, Moynihan said.

“A lot of the change is already taken out of the system,” he said.

Shares of both companies were little changed at 11:23 a.m. in New York. Their total returns this year including dividends are in line with the 34 percent gain for the KBW Bank Index through yesterday.

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