(Most) BofA shareholders in better mood at annual meeting
Bank of America shareholders gathered uptown Wednesday for their annual meeting. The same gathering last year brought out hordes of national media and scrutiny from investors who successfully ousted CEO Ken Lewis from the chairmanship of the bank's board. Before long Lewis was out entirely and a new CEO - Brian Moynihan - took the reins. In this segment, WFAE's Julie Rose discusses the meeting with All Things Considered host Mark Rumsey. Here's the transcript of that discussion: Mark: Julie, first of all, can you contrast this year's meeting with last year? Julie: Far fewer people. They filled maybe half the Blumenthal auditorium. Last year the line to get in was out the door - both nervous employees and angry shareholders. Their stock value had dropped to about $8 from a high in the $50s. The bank had just taken $45 billion in TARP money from the federal government. It was reporting huge losses linked to the acquisition of Merrill Lynch. Today, there were about 50 people outside protesting the bank's credit card rates and lending practices. The shareholders I spoke to heading into the meeting sounded more like this: "Much better than last year. The stock price is up. The economy seems to be looking up," said shareholder Pam West. "I think Bank of America's on the right track and doing well in a difficult environment. I'm quite optimistic," said Dale Sisel. Mark: Is Bank of America really in such a better place now? Julie: Well the stock closed today at $17.78 - compared to $8.68 at last year's meeting. And for the first quarter of 2010 the bank reported a profit of nearly $3 billion. That's after a year of losses. So financially speaking, the bank is in a much better spot. Moynihan has been saying he thinks the worst is over. But keep in mind Bank of America has had a laser focus on improving its image over the last year. We've seen numerous ad campaigns touting the bank's commitment to clarity - these plain English explanations customers are getting on their credit card statements now. And the bank scored big points with customers and advocacy groups when it did away with overdraft fees on debit cards. That was reflected in number of groups that got up to praise the Bank. The head of the Center for Responsible Lending, for example. Mark: Was there no criticism? Julie: Oh, there definitely was. Labor unions, religious groups, the NAACP and even the Rev. Jesse Jackson expressed frustration that people are still being foreclosed on and paying credit card rates they think are unfair. A number of activist shareholder groups sent actual homeowners to share their stories. This woman is named Mercy Martinez. She's from California and she got one of those subprime loans that she now can't afford. She says she got a trial modification on her loan from Bank of America but was denied a permanent modification. And she says the bank has not given her credit on her mortgage for the money she paid during that trial period: "You robbing me of $5,000 is a huge sin. And that's the least of your offenses. The worst part of this is I'm not alone. You're treating thousands of families this way. You really need to change your corporate practices." Mark: Strong words there. What was Moynihan's response? Julie: He basically offered to put her in touch with the head of mortgages for the bank who was sitting near the front row. But he also pointed out that Bank of America has done more of these loan modifications than any other bank. And that appears to be true. It's just that there are so, so many more people in need of help. Moynihan also took some heat for the bank's dividend - or lack of it. Shareholders used to get more than $2 a year per share. Since 2008 the dividend's been only a penny. But Moynihan said it could be a while before that's restored. A few things need to happen first. "One is we have to have certainty the economy is gonna hold on. Two is we have to earn for several quarters. Three is we've got to make sure that the capital levels are out there in some of the proposals in the regulatory area and that we've achieved those capital levels going forth," Moynihan said. Mark: He seems to be referencing financial reform proposals there. Where does the bank stand on this big financial reform measure Congress is debating? Julie: Well, Moynihan says the bank actually supports creating a national agency to oversee consumer finance like credit cards and home loans - as long as everyone has to play by the same rules, he says. But Moynihan says he does not plan to call off the bank's lobbyists in Washington. The president has asked banks to ease up their full court press so something can pass. Moynihan says the bank needs to have a seat at the table since it will be impacted by any bill that passes.