NEW YORK (
Bank of America
's recent rally hasn't led longtime investor and gadfly Finger Interests to divest any of its shares, according to partner Jonathan Finger, who says the firm will likely wait until shares start to approach tangible book value--roughly $13, before considering such a move.
At that point, Finger says, "we'll take a very hard look at where the company is and whether it makes sense to sell."
Finger expects to wait a couple of years until the shares hit that level, however. Following a rise of 19.38% since Sept. 5, Bank of America shares closed at $9.55 on Friday, close to their 52 week high of $10.10 on March 19.
Finger Interests initially acquired its stake in what is now Bank of America when the Finger family sold a bank it owned to NationsBank in 1996. (NationsBank bought Bank of America and took its name in 1998.)
Finger says his firm has sold "a substantial portion" of its stake in Bank of America over time, but has mostly been a buyer since the 2008 crisis. Bank of America shares are the largest position of the $25 million Finger Interests manages, exceeding 10% of the portfolio, Finger says.
Despite its steady investment in Bank of America shares, Finger Interests has been an outspoken critic of Bank of America management past and present. It is plaintiff in a lawsuit against the bank for failing to disclose mushrooming losses at Merrill Lynch in 2008 before asking shareholders to approve the deal. A separate class action lawsuit is also pending. Finger declined to discuss the lawsuit.
Despite initially opposing the appointment of bank CEO Brian Moynihan, Finger believes getting rid of him at this point would be a distraction.
Finger praised efforts by management to strengthen the company's balance sheet by building capital and selling noncore assets. He still has questions about "what the true core earnings power of the company is, and I think they are in the process now of adjusting their expenses to match revenues."
Like many shareholders, Finger still has questions about the bank's ongoing exposure to legal challenges from investors in bonds backed by subprime mortgages underwritten by Countrywide Financial.
"How does that ultimately get resolved and how long does that take?" Finger asks. "I think that's an area where they could shed some additional light on their strategy in terms of what their plans are. One thing we'd like to see is a better explanation to shareholders about whether they've looked at putting Countrywide into bankruptcy and, if so, what are the results of that analysis?"
Finger also expressed grave concerns about Bank of America's brand, citing a
in which banks as an industry struggled but Bank of America fared especially poorly.
Finger believes Bank of America needs to undergo a sweeping effort to overhaul its image, similar to what Chrysler did with Lee Iacocca in the 1980's. He fears consumers looking to open a bank account or take out a mortgage simply don't consider Bank of America at this point because they don't trust the bank. Fixing this will require "more than just running a couple of ads," Finger says.
Most alarming to Finger, however, is that he doesn't "get the sense that there's a great sense of alarm anywhere in the executive suite that this is an important issue."
An email message to two Bank of America spokesmen wasn't returned.
Written by Dan Freed in New York
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