NEW YORK (
) -- In its latest perception battle,
Bank of America
(BAC - Get Report)
is up against an international man of mystery who appears to have a loaded publicity gun.
In just a matter of hours, he robbed shareholders of as much as $4 billion.
The man, of course, is Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks known for blockbuster data dumps that have humiliated top diplomats and put lives in danger.
On Tuesday, after investors realized that Assange probably has a mark on Bank of America as his next target, shares of the Charlotte, N.C.-based banking behemoth plunged as much as 3.5%, hitting a new 52-week low of $10.91.
>>>BofA May Be WikiLeaks Target
Just last weekend, Assange's organization achieved its latest coup by releasing 250,000 communiqués between the U.S. and its foreign allies. The move embarrassed officials and strained diplomatic relationships. It also led to condemnation from the Obama administration, which has also tried - unsuccessfully - to prevent WikiLeaks from releasing other classified military documents as well.
After WikiLeaks' latest hoorah,
published an interview with Assange in which he claimed to have damning information about a large U.S. bank.
Assange declined to name the bank, though adept Google searchers were able to find a reference to Bank of America in another interview with the ashen Web pirate last year. In that October 2009
article, Assange said he had 5 gigabytes of data from the hard drive of a Bank of America executive and was determining how to present it in the most effective way.
It's hard to tell what Assange could have up his sleeve -- and that's exactly the reason Bank of America's stock is selling off so hard.
Rochdale Securities analyst Richard Bove suggested that it may be some information about Countrywide's lending practices, its "friends of Angelo" program that gave sweetheart mortgages to government officials or the Merrill Lynch acquisition. But all of those topics appear unlikely, given the way Assange described the information. He compared it to Enron, cited "flagrant violations, unethical practices that will be revealed" and characterized it as a window into "the ecosystem of corruption."