Bank of America Corp.'s shares fell to their lowest level in 20 years Wednesday amid rumors that the Charlotte company may eventually be nationalized.
Even reports of a recent memo from Kenneth D. Lewis, the company's chairman, president, and chief executive, discussing "encouraging" results for January failed to rally B of A's shares.
Cassandra Toroian, the president and chief investment officer of Bell Rock Capital LLC in Rehoboth, Del., said investors are wary that the government would either convert its $45 billion in preferred shares in B of A into common shares or deem the company's other preferred shares worthless. "But that's just not going to happen," she said in an interview.
In a Feb. 2 memo to employees, Mr. Lewis wrote that his management team was "unanimously endorsed" by the board in a meeting last week.
Other factors were at play Wednesday. B of A also confirmed that it is selling three corporate aircraft, along with a helicopter that had belonged to Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. A source close to the company also said it is looking to sell one of two corporate apartments in New York. B of A has drawn fire for buying Merrill since the brokerage company's massive losses forced it to return to the Treasury Department for a second capital infusion. B of A lost $1.79 billion in the fourth quarter, excluding Merrill's $15.3 billion loss, then got a $138 billion package of new capital and asset guarantees from the Treasury.
Spokesman Scott Silvestri said Wednesday, "As part of our ongoing cost-reduction efforts we have been scaling back our use of corporate aircraft." He would not comment on the reasons for the company's share price decline.
B of A's shares fell 11.3%, to below $5 a share for the first time since 1990 when the company was known as NationsBank Corp. The KBW Bank Index closed down 1.48%.
Mr. Lewis' memo updated employees on the Jan. 28 board meeting, the Charlotte Observer reported. "As I'm sure you can imagine, it was the longest board meeting in anyone's memory," he wrote. "We discussed in great detail the company's most recent performance and our plans for getting through the recession in a position of strength." Capital markets conditions "moderated" last month, though credit costs continued to rise, he wrote. Mr. Silvestri would not comment on the memo. B of A did confirm it had named Ki Myung Hong as president of its Asia-Pacific operations, succeeding former Merrill executive Nelson Chai. Mr. Hong, a B of A veteran, had been the company's chief risk officer in the region. Several outlets reported Mr. Chai was leaving the company in the wake of former Merrill chief executive John Thain's ouster last month.