Cover Story: Bank of America: "Recovery is real"

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - "The recovery is real," notes Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan.

"I haven't started seeing any of it yet," says a restaurant worker in southwest Charlotte.

Two very different views of the same economy.  One from the top of Bank of America.  The other at street level.

The question is, are we on the road to recovery?

B of A is back in the black, posting a first quarter profit of nearly $3 billion and tripling analyst expectations.

Big profits pointing to a recovery for Charlotte's big bank.  But our bank accounts aren't bouncing back so quickly.

As one worker told us today.. it's got to go down the chain.

Unemployment is still high and until people have jobs and money to spend.. not everyone will believe there's a recovery.

"764 to go."

At the Steele Creek Cafe in southwest Charlotte, the recovery everyone's talking about hasn't been felt here yet.

At their height-- at lunchtime they had a staff of eight taking and filling orders.  Now they're down to four people.  And some days they're not always busy.

"People just are not eating out as much as they used to because they have to save what money they've got," says Belinda McGraw.

Bank of America's CEO Brian Moynihan told an audience of bankers and regulators at a symposium in uptown Friday.. the bank's positive first quarter earnings provide more evidence that the banking industry and the economy are recovering.

But from the view from the top.. B of A sees two things happening that could stave off that recovery.

Consumers are getting out of debt.. reducing their debt levels and restoring their financial health.

And companies that are financially-sound and are able to borrow.. aren't accessing credit.

For the economy to take off both--- people have to begin spending and companies have to begin producing.  And it's often made possible through borrowing.

"There's nothing more important to drive the economy than how we get credit to the right people who can pay us back and manage it carefully. So that our financial system stays safe and sound," said Moynihan.

The Charlotte-based bank made money in the first quarter off of business from Merrill Lynch, which it acquired last year.  Investment banking, capital markets and wealth management all were up.

"The recovery is real," Moynihan said.

While there were some positives in today's news Charlotte's big bank still faces some big challenges.

Among them how to improve its stock price--from 18-bucks.. down significantly from a 50-dollar high three years ago.. and the dividend is still a penny a share.

And how it will navigate through the stiffer government oversight which expected to be coming down the pike..

Back at the Steele Creek Cafe.. hearing that B of A is doing better gives them hope.  Hope that the recovery will trickle down to them eventually.

"I haven't started seeing any of it yet," said Belinda McGraw, "but you know you've got to be hopeful and hope things are going to turn around and everything's going to pick back up."

B of A's Brian Moynihan, who marked his 100-th day on the job just last week, has another big test coming up.

Bank of America's Annual Shareholder Meeting is 12 days from today.

These things used to be quiet affairs.. not anymore.

He'll likely face a barrage of dissident shareholders unhappy over the stock price.. the bank's salary and bonuses and even take heat from environmental groups.

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