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Bank of America Shoots Itself In the Foot Again

NEW YORK (TheStreet)--Bank of America (BAC) had a disastrous second quarter earnings call, sending shares lower by 4.9% Wednesday and another 3.3% shortly before the close on Thursday, but it isn't clear which is more serious: the bank's problems or management's clumsy attempts to explain them.

The real shocker in the quarter was the surge in claims against the bank over problem mortgages underwritten by Countrywide Financial, which Bank of America acquired in 2008. After running from $3.8-$4.9 billion per quarter for the past four quarters, new claims surged to $8.2 billion in the second quarter, according to a slide in the bank's second quarter earnings presentation.

Bank of America CFO Bruce Thompson said the bank "fully anticipated" the rise in claims a year ago, and increased its reserves at the time to account for it. Still, Thompson received several questions on the conference call about the rise in claims, and analysts later wrote in research notes that uncertainty over the eventual cost of mortgage -related disputes continues to weigh on the outlook for the bank.

One area of confusion was the terms of a settlement Bank of America reached with Syncora, a monoline mortgage bond insurer. Bank of America said the settlement would "will reduce outstanding monoline claims at the end of June by approximately 20 percent."

Extrapolating from that number, the fact that the bank shows $3.128 billion in outstanding monoline claims, and the fact that Bank of America settled with Syncora for $375 million, Oppenheimer analyst Chris Kotowski concluded that Bank of America had paid about 60 cents on the dollar to settle the claims. CFO Thompson told Kotowski that number was incorrect, offering up this explanation.

It is worth quoting at length, only to highlight how utterly unhelpful it is.

"I think you have to be careful, Chris. I can assure you that the rate at which was paid was not anywhere near the number that you quoted, and the reason is keep in mind with the monolines. As we've talked about you've got a couple different buckets that go into what you think a monoline exposure is that drives that number significantly lower than what you just quoted. The first is there are claims that come in that monolines have submitted. At points in time monolines have stopped submitting claims because they believe that they're going the route of litigation; and then third, over and above those two buckets you have things that may happen in the future that have not been realized or worked through. So when I quoted the fact that the Syncora settlement was 20% of those claims, you should not in anyway extrapolate out that that's the payment percentage," Thompson said.

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