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It was only a matter of time, of course. With Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) hogging the market spotlight lately with all of its positive momentum, odds were good that some analysts would consider it time to take a swipe at the big guy. Credit Suisse (NYSE: CS ) stepped up to the plate, knocking back B of A to Neutral from Outperform, and choosing Citigroup (NYSE: C ) as its best pick for 2013.
Somebody had to break stride
The big bank had been on an upgrade streak since June , with several analysts giving it the thumbs up, one after another. Even market seer Meredith Whitney made quite a splash less than a month ago with her enthusiastic approval of B of A's recent accomplishments. So, what gives?
The Credit Suisse analyst, Moshe Orenbuch, opined that Bank of America is not in a position to generate earnings and cut costs with enough gusto to justify the skyrocketing share price. In addition, he feels that, despite the speed at which B of A has been settling suits regarding toxic mortgage loans, more are on the way -- resulting in elevated legal bills for the foreseeable future.
Even the bank's sale of bucket loads of mortgage servicing rights doesn't cut any ice with Orenbuch, who notes that those savings won't be reflected until next year.
B of A's work continues
Meanwhile, the bank carries on with its accelerated spruce-up plan. Just days after the aforementioned MSR sale, Bank of America announced that it plans to put another chunk of these goodies on the auction block -- $100 billion worth, with more to come soon.
B of A is continuing to shed other unneeded assets, as well. The bank has vowed to unload 750 branch locations, and it has been finding willing buyers among smaller community banks. The allure of those banking spaces wasn't lost on Old National Bancorp (NASDAQ: ONB ) , a Midwestern regional whose Old National Bank was the latest to grab some of B of A's branches, absorbing 24 locations in northern Indiana and southwest Michigan.
One Fool's take
Bank of America is cutting costs as fast as it can, but it may not be enough to offset the mortgage litigation expenses that Orenbuch speaks of. Although his favorites Citi, JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) , and US Bancorp (NYSE: USB ) were also signatories on the $8.5 billion mortgage fraud settlement case, B of A is in a category all its own because of Countrywide. Indeed, the U.S. District Attorney of southern New York, Preet Bharara, has just reiterated his resolve to prosecute the bank to the fullest of his abilities regarding those crappy legacy loans.
So, there will be bumps in the road for Bank of America, but don't let that scare you. Two bits of lousy news in one day have dinged the bank's stock, but this, too, will pass. The stress test is ahead, and it looks like B of A will ace it this time. Smart investors will keep their eyes on that prize, and take the rest with a grain of salt.
2013 is looking better than ever for B of A even though, as mentioned above, there are still headwinds to fight against -- although the strides made in the last year shows some real spunk. To learn more about the most talked-about bank out there, check out our in-depth company report on Bank of America. The report details Bank of America's prospects, including three reasons to buy and three reasons to sell. Just click here to get access.