In a significant buildup of its asset-based loan business, BankAmerica Corp. said it has agreed to pay $1.8 billion in cash to a Ford Motor Co. affiliate for a $1.8 billion commercial leasing portfolio.
Announcing the purchase Friday, BankAmerica also said it will form a partnership with the Ford affiliate, USL Capital Corp., to manage another $1.7 billion of commercial leases.
The transaction provides a huge boost to a BankAmerica global leasing operation that had $2 billion of assets as of June 30, while promising additional fee income from the jointly managed portfolio.
The move also indicates that $239 billion-asset BankAmerica is bullish on the finance business while taking a dimmer view of more traditional banking functions.
"The transactions represent an investment of additional capital in our commercial leasing and equipment finance business, which has been generating very attractive returns for our shareholders," said BankAmerica chairman David A. Coulter.
The deal "is further illustration of BofA's ongoing efforts to allocate capital to better performing businesses," added Alex. Brown & Sons Inc. analyst Joseph K. Morford.
Ever since Mr. Coulter succeeded Richard M. Rosenberg as chief executive in January and as chairman in May, he has been moving ahead with plans to trim investments in underperforming areas and concentrate on activities deemed more strategic.
For instance, to improve returns in its struggling Texas bank, BofA last month announced plans to sell all of its branches in smaller towns and focus its energies on major metropolitan areas.
The company also is undergoing a major review of its European wholesale group that is expected to result in a major cutback.
Richard Harris, president of BankAmerica Leasing Group, said the USL acquisition will be immediately accretive to earnings, although probably not enough to be noticed in financial reports.
Mr. Harris added that BankAmerica will consider hiring at least some of the 23 employees in the USL Transportation and Industrial division that manages the assets involved in the transaction.
The bank's leasing division employs about 250 people worldwide, and its services are sold through the same offices that the bank uses for its other financial services.
The leases to be acquired are for aircraft, rail, marine, and other industrial equipment and facilities.
Mr. Harris said the acquisition exceeds BankAmerica Corp.'s internal hurdle rate for return on investment and bolsters a unit that ranks among the company's most profitable - and among the biggest leasing units at any bank.
For Ford, the sale takes it a step closer to completing its previously announced plan to reduce non-automotive finance operations and boost returns from core auto financing.
The company has been selling the $9.7 billion-asset USL subsidiary in stages and has completed or announced deals to sell 75% of it. In May it agreed to sell a rail-car leasing subsidiary to First Union Corp. for $900 million.