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Bank of America profits rise 28%, wage expenses up too

Bank of America said its profits rose 28% last quarter from a year earlier, but the bank faced the same wage inflation as its Wall Street counterparts.

The bank said Wednesday that it earned a profit of $7.01 billion, or 82 cents per share, in the fourth quarter. That's up from a profit of $5.47 billion, or 59 cents a share, in the same period a year earlier. Analysts surveyed by FactSet were expecting the bank to post a profit of 77 cents a share.

The bank, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, saw most of its businesses grow profits in the quarter. But much of the growth was in BofA's investment banking division, which saw profits climb to $2.68 billion from $1.67 billion. Other banks with investment banking businesses saw a strong end to the year, as companies scrambled to close deals or go public.

BofA also got a one-time boost from a release of $851 million in loan-loss reserves last quarter. These reserves are money that banks set aside to cover potentially bad loans during the early part of the pandemic, and most banks have been steadily releasing those funds.

In BofA's consumer banking business, its largest division by revenue and profits, profits rose to $3.12 billion from $2.59 billion a year earlier. Consumers spent more on the bank's credit and debit cards while expenses were lower.

The bank recently shook up the industry by announcing that it planned to cut overdraft fees to $10 from $35 as well as stop charging a variety of fees that often would impact the bank's poorest customers.

Like its competitors, BofA is facing much higher compensation expenses. The bank spent $36.1 billion on wages and benefits last year, up 10% from a year earlier. BofA joined Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Citi in saying they were expecting to see higher salary costs as they compete for talent.

Morgan Stanley, which also issued its results on Wednesday, reported an 18% jump in annual compensation expenses as well.

For the full year, Bank of America posted a profit of $30.56 billion, nearly double the $16.5 billion it earned in 2020 when the pandemic hit the global economy.