Importantly, B of A posted positive earnings for the fourth quarter and for the full year. It's important because Bank of America has been the laggard of the big banks.
Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ) , JPMorgan (NYSE: JPM ) , and even Citigroup (NYSE: C ) have been firmly in the black, but it's only now that Bank of America is back to profitability on a trailing-12-month basis.
We also see an improving Tier 1 common equity ratio (up to 9.86% vs. 8.65% three months before) and less need for credit-loss provisioning (in other words, better credit quality). And for what it's worth, it claims $14.4 billion in exposure to the PIIGS countries (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain), down $1.4 billion from a year before.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that the newfound profitability isn't due to core operations. It's due to shedding assets. For example, the fourth quarter's $2 billion of net income can be attributed to the pre-tax $2.9 billion on the gain on sale of China Construction Bank shares.
Over the course of the year, B of A sold $34 billion in "non-core assets and businesses."
But for Bank of America, I think we'll take the earnings win any way we can get it. And bigger picture, I like what I'm seeing from CEO Brian Moynihan. He's being prudent about becoming leaner and meaner -- both through asset sales and through cost-cutting measures like Project New BAC that looks to cut some 30,000 jobs.
When your stock is trading at about a third of book value, even an earnings report full of asterisks is welcome news. That's what we see today for Bank of America.
I'm long-term bullish on Bank of America for advanced investors who can stomach the risk and unknowability of its balance sheet, but if you're looking for a much less complex bank that has some of the best operational numbers I've ever seen, check out our brand new free report: "The Stocks Only the Smartest Investors Are Buying." I invite you to take a free copy to find out the name of the small bank I believe Warren Buffett would be interested in if he could still invest in small banks.