Is Bank of America’s $4 billion blunder proof it’s too big?

Bank of America's (BAC) embarrassing disclosure on Monday that it had miscalculated its capital levels, leading it to report $4 billion more capital on its books than it really had, is renewing criticism that the financial company has grown too large and hard to manage.

It would be bad enough for any publicly traded corporation to make a mistake of this size, but the error is especially disconcerting given that B of A is in the business of banking. After the disclosure, the Federal Reserve rebuked the bank by requiring it to suspend a dividend increase and stock buyback.

"How can the board not come to the conclusion that Bank of America is too complex to manage?" CSLA analyst Mike Mayo, a noted financial industry watcher, told Business Insider. "I think the incident today impacts the controls, capital and credibility... I mean, banking is a business of numbers and getting the numbers right is paramount."

B of A, which said it doesn't comment on analyst reports, has a month to draw up new plans to submit to the Fed.

The problem comes as the financial giant has sought to improve both its operations and its credibility with customers. The bank is often cited as one of the most hated companies in America, with many of the complaints tied to mortgages, thanks to the enduring legacy of its purchase of mortgage lender Countrywide Financial.

But problems keep emerging for B of A. Earlier this month, the bank said it had $6 billion in litigation expenses tied to its settlement with the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which The New York Times notes was higher than many had expected.

In the case of the missing capital, the issue was tied to $60 billion in structured notes that B of A got as part of its 2009 acquisition of Merrill Lynch. The bank failed to reduce its capital to account for losses tied to the notes, which artificially boosted its capital.

But not all investors are sticking around to see what happens next in the company's ongoing saga. The stock has slipped by about 6 percent since Friday, before the company disclosed the error. One former shareholder, Moore Companies chairman John Moore, told The Wall Street Journal, "After a while, you finally give up."

  • Aimee Picchi

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