Sometimes, the little things are the most critical -- and on Bank of America's (NYSE: BAC ) recent earnings call, one tiny detail stood out.
It wasn't the massive earnings miss, the $3 billion in charges, or the $1.6 billion settlement with Assured Guaranty (NYSE: AGO ) for bad mortgages. (A similar dispute with MBIA (NYSE: MBI ) could result in a heftier charge, according to The Wall Street Journal.)
It was Chief Accounting Officer Neil Cotty describing a 4% decline in home prices this year as a "shock" scenario. That comment came roughly a month after a pessimistic MacroMarkets survey. Here's what MacroMarkets gleaned from 111 economists, real estate experts, investment and market strategists:
Overall, the sentiment among our expert panel regarding the U.S. housing market outlook continues to deteriorate.... The March expectations data are the most pessimistic collected to date.... Many more experts are now projecting a double-dip.... In December, only 15% of our panelists were projecting that a new post-crash low would materialize for national home prices. Now, just three months later, almost 50% foresee a double-dip happening this year.
The mean response to MacroMarkets' survey calls for a year-over-year price decline of 1.4% in Q4 2011. But a 4% decline, which B of A called a shocker, is within one standard deviation. In plain English, it's normal. About one of six survey respondents expects U.S. housing prices to decline more than 4% this year. One expects an 11% decline.
MacroMarkets isn't alone. On Feb. 1, Fiserv forecast that average prices of single-family homes would fall 5.5% over the following year. In contrast to MacroMarkets, Fiserv's forecast is driven by data from the Case-Shiller index and the FHFA.
Furthermore, on JPMorgan Chase's (NYSE: JPM ) recent earnings call, CEO Jamie Dimon said that mortgage-related losses remain "extraordinarily high" and "will continue for a while." While that's not a call on housing prices, JPMorgan appears to be taking a more conservative view than B of A.
B of A's "shock" scenario runs against the consensus. It could drive another $1.5 billion in 2011 charges. For perspective, this quarter's net profit was $2 billion.
B of A's "shock" comment tells me that management is in denial, and that the stock is a risky bet.