NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Wall Street wants Bank of America (BAC) to get back on a growth trajectory, but it's unclear whether the firm will deliver on top-line expectations with its first-quarter results next week.
Essentially, while Bank of America is still an ubiquitous American brand, it isn't targeting Average Joe anymore; it's targeting his wealthy uncle, or his underbanked cousins abroad.
The firm has made progress on some fronts: Bank of America ranked high in the first-quarter league tables, and has hired key executives to grow its corporate and investment banking businesses. But will it be able to meet or exceed Wall Street expectations for the first quarter? At least one analyst thinks expectations are far too bullish. Deutsche Bank's Matt O'Connor broke down the apparent effects of Bank of America's business-strategy shift, as well as regulatory changes that will break off huge chunks of revenue this year. Among those are the elimination of overdraft fees and changes to certain credit-card practices. Bank of America estimated in 2009 that the changes will sap between $1.4 billion and $1.6 billion in revenue per year, until it figures out where to stick new fees. In a note last week, O'Connor estimates that changes to overdraft and credit card policies, as well as the wind-down of some loan portfolios and other adjustments, will slash 26% from his earlier prediction of Bank of America's "normalized" earnings per share. And whereas O'Connor had pegged that EPS estimate at $2.82, and cut it down to $2.09, per share, he says most other analysts are targeting a profit in the $3-to-$3.50 per share range. O'Connor implies that some may be looking just at Bank of America's growth potential, and underestimating the other side of the coin. Nonetheless, Bank of America's stock soared 18.5% during the first three months of the year, to close out the quarter at $17.85. It has tacked on another 64 cents, or 3.6%, since then. The run-up may bear major fruit for Bank of America shareholders if the firm can prove its revenue capabilities early on, but it's still a risky bet. Last earnings season, investors showed the industry that stabilization, and even profit beats, weren't enough; they wanted top-line growth. Bank stocks were hammered for a time because of revenue disappointments, despite the clear stabilization in loan books that investors had long sought. -- Written by Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York