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BofA to cut at least 40,000 jobs

The layoffs reflect Bank of America's deepening woes and are likely to take a heavy toll on its California operations.

September 10, 2011|By Walter Hamilton and E. Scott Reckard, Los Angeles Times
  • Bank of America has 45,000 employees in California and is expected to roll out the job cuts over the next several years. The company also is in the process of closing 10% of its branches nationwide. Above, pedestrians are reflected in the window as customers conduct transactions at a branch in Washington.
Bank of America has 45,000 employees in California and is expected to roll… (Kevin Lamarque / Reuters )

Bank of America Corp. is preparing to slash 40,000 or more jobs nationwide, a dramatic retrenchment that reflects the deepening woes of the country's largest bank and the magnitude of the U.S. economic slowdown.

The layoffs will come mainly from the BofA's sprawling consumer-banking operations, which will take a heavy toll on branches, loan centers and other offices throughout California.

Bank of America has 45,000 employees in the state, about 1 in 6 of its nearly 300,000-person workforce, and is expected to roll out the job cuts over the next several years. The company, which for years was based in San Francisco and maintains its huge mortgage unit in Calabasas, also is in the process of closing 10% of its branches nationwide.

California has the highest concentration of BofA branches in the U.S. with 956 throughout the state, though it has been losing ground in recent years to rivals like Wells Fargo & Co. and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The layoffs are another blow to California, with its battered economy and nearly 12% unemployment rate. From tellers to middle managers, laid-off Bank of America employees are likely to have a tough time finding new jobs.

"We don't need to lose any jobs in this environment, whether in financial services or anywhere else," said Esmael Adibi, a Chapman University economist.

The details of the cutbacks were not officially announced, but the information was disclosed by three Bank of America executives who have been briefed on the plan but were not authorized to speak publicly. Brian Moynihan, Bank of America's beleaguered chief executive, is expected to unveil details at an investor conference Monday in New York.

Investors sent shares of the BofA down 3.1% to $6.98 on Friday on a day banks led the overall market sharply lower on more worries about global economies falling into a recession. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 303.68, or 2.7%, to 10,992.13

Executives met at the bank's Charlotte, N.C., headquarters Thursday and Friday to finalize the plan, which has been under discussion for months. Moynihan is grappling with how to wring more profit from the bank's core customer base, which includes about 58 million consumer and small-business accounts.

At least one analyst said the cutbacks could weigh heavily on BofA's millions of Southern California customers, who would have to deal with fewer branches and longer lines for tellers.

"You're definitely going to see decreased service levels for consumers," said Christopher Whalen, a bank analyst at Institutional Risk Analytics. "They're talking about either closing branches or reducing the head count in the branches."

Moynihan hopes to fashion a smaller but more focused company that can withstand the fallout from its disastrous 2008 takeover of mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp. in Calabasas. The home-lending unit has run up $30 billion in losses, and faces billions more in potential liability from a barrage of mortgage-related lawsuits.

Federal regulators and private investors allege that Countrywide misled them about the quality of loans and bonds tied to high-risk mortgages bought during the housing boom. Earlier this month, federal regulators sued Bank of America and 16 rivals, contending that the banks sold loans to housing goliaths Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac under false pretenses.

Bank of America's retrenchment is also being driven by the slack U.S. economy and darkening outlook for the banking industry. Intensifying worries about its prospects have cut Bank of America's stock price by more than half since mid-January, a far larger hit than its peers have suffered.

"The financial-services industry as a whole is going to shrink," said Nancy Bush, a banking analyst and contributing editor at research firm SNL Financial. "We don't need as many loans, as many credit cards, as many mortgages as we did in the past two decades."

The flailing economy has struck particularly hard at Bank of America, which critics say has been beset by poor management and a flawed growth strategy of rapid-fire acquisitions of other companies. To overcome its woes, BofA executives have worked for much of the past year on the ambitious restructuring known as Project New BAC, a reference to the ticker symbol for the company's stock.

Moynihan has made a number of bold steps in recent weeks, including signing on billionaire Warren Buffett as a major shareholder. This week he ousted two senior executives, including Sallie Krawcheck, one of the highest-ranking women on Wall Street.

The first phase of New BAC is designed to streamline the consumer businesses, including home loans, credit cards and wealth management. It also will make cuts in the corporate support staff, such as legal, marketing, human relations and finance employees.

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