NEW YORK - In unveiling the restructuring of Bank One Corp. on Wednesday, James Dimon formally began the heavy-lifting phase of the two repair jobs he was hired to tackle.
Mr. Dimon, who has to restore both profit growth at the beleaguered bank and normal relations between the bank and Wall Street, appeared to handle the latter particularly well. He offered up a blend of goals and wish list items - First USA, the company's credit card business should be generating $1 billion in earnings, he said - and even envisioned a day in the not-too-distant future when Bank One might again consider acquisitions as a path to growth.
"Next year & deals would be addressed individually," he said. Though Bank One is not looking to "do any major deals," he said, "the company should be in a position to do certain kinds of acquisitions, portfolio acquisitions or bank acquisitions."
During the presentation in New York, Mr. Dimon went over second-quarter results with analysts and detailed a harsh $1.91 billion after-tax charge. He also said the bank would halve its dividend to preserve some $1 billion per year in capital, thin its employee ranks through attrition, and implement cost cuts he put at $500 million annually.
He also made it clear that Bank One has no plans to sell its WingspanBank.com unit and instead would incorporate the business into the bank's retail operations, despite its losses and struggle to gain online customers. His candor was welcomed by analysts despite what was undeniably bad news on the earnings front.
The company reported a net loss for the quarter of $1.26 billion, or $1.11 per diluted share, compared with net income for the same period last year of $992 million, or 83 cents per share. Excluding the special items, earnings were $650 million, or 55 cents per share. Analyst consensus estimates gathered by First Call/Thomson Financial were 64 cents.
"It seems like there's a tremendous amount of optimism that he can pull this off," said Bradley Vander Ploeg, an analyst with First Union Securities in Chicago.
Bank One shares closed at $32.50 on the day, up $2.50 or 8.3%; the element of surprise had been drained from the announcement despite Bank One's tight-lips in the weeks leading up to the meeting. Analysts, accustomed to disappointments from the company, had this time produced quite accurate estimates of the charge and the dividend cut. Now, the attention turns to execution.
"A lot of people believe in the ideas he put forward and agree now it's just a matter of execution." Mr. Vander Ploeg said. "I didn't think the plan was all that concrete or specific, but it seems they have the big picture vision about how this is going to work."
During the meeting on the top floor of the St. Regis Hotel, Mr. Dimon took all the questions from the podium and sprinkled humor in with his direct answers, attempting to quell Wall Street's fears.
When commenting on cutting back on waste, for example, Mr. Dimon pointed out that Bank One has 22,000 pagers, $500 million in consulting fees, and thousands of square feet of vacant office space it owns but has failed to utilize or market.
"Our vendors are having a feast," he joked.
Mr. Dimon, who was helped in his presentation by Bank One's chief financial officer Charles Scharf, later met with small groups of analysts throughout the afternoon. He avoided talk of blame for the bank's problems even when asked directly about previous management's performance. "I'm not going to talk about that," he said.
In the charge, the bank took $518 million in charges in its retail business caused largely by deteriorating auto lease residuals. Commercial banking was hurt by $673 million in charges, $647 million of which was an addition to the allowance for credit losses. Eroding commercial loan quality was a factor.
Bank One's troubled First USA credit card unit had $777 million in asset impairment writedowns caused by a continuing reduction in cash flow associated with certain assets, compressed interest margins, lower fee revenue, and higher credit costs.
The company's nonperforming assets were $1.78 billion at the end of the second quarter, up $123 million from the $1.66 billion at the end of the quarter before. Those assets include nonperforming commercial loans, other real estate owned, and consumer loans 90 days past due.
To save $25 million to $30 million, Mr. Dimon said Bank One will cut its 20 domestic bank charters to three. He also said it will consolidate its seven deposit systems into one.
"If we don't put these systems together, we will die a slow death," he said.
An ongoing problem that Mr. Dimon wants to correct quickly is Bank One's sagging customer service. The bank will add 12,000 computers to its branches, giving workers access to certain customer information more quickly, empowering workers to handle problems more quickly, he said.
In perhaps the best evidence of the chairman and chief executive's commitment to his new job, Mr. Dimon has also put down some roots in the Chicago area. He has picked out a home in the Lincoln Park neighborhood and expects to close in the coming weeks.