It seems that barely a day goes by lately without at least one of the megabanks being hit with another lawsuit. Bank of America (NYSE: BAC), in particular, has been stacking up the legal complaints, but this week I was able to dig up two pieces of especially brilliant news regarding the downtrodden big bank's lawsuit backlog. Could the tide be turning for good old B of A, at last?
Reason No. 1: The Street reports that a big nuisance, at least to Bank of America, is on its way to being put to bed: the class action lawsuit regarding debit card overdraft fees. The case revolved around the practice of the bank processing customers' debit card transactions not as they occurred, but so that the bank would be able to assess fees on the greatest number of transactions. B of A settled out of court for $410 million just about one year ago, and the checks for partial reparation are finally getting into the mail and finding their way to the injured parties.
This is a big weight off of B of A's figurative shoulders, not just because of the size of the settlement, but because it involved more than 13 million customers, as well as dicey debit card processing activities spanning approximately 10 years.
Not that Bank of America was the only bank making a nifty profit off of this little game. This past summer, U.S. Bank (NYSE:USB) settled a similar suit for $55 million, and PNC Financial (NYSE:PNC) ponied up $90 million to put the same type of charges to rest. JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) also paid a $110 million settlement in February, and announced in June that it would no longer assess such fees for purchases of $5 or less.
Reason No. 2: A recent ruling in a Los Angeles courtroom looks as if it may take the wind out of the sails of investors suing over soured mortgage-backed securities created by Countrywide.
A district court judge has changed her mind on the subject of lawsuits regarding flawed MBSes, an epiphany prompted by a suit recently filed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. While the judge's previous position was that state claims filed timely in 2007 and 2008 would cause a federal extension of the statute of limitations on identical complaints filed at the federal level, she now sees things differently. Noting that the parameters for filing state lawsuits are much different than those for class action federal cases, the judge ruled that the federal extension doesn't apply to state lawsuits.
This is huge, as it limits Bank of America's liability pursuant to these MBSes, likely putting many pending claims out of the jurisdiction of the courts. Since crummy mortgage loans in Countrywide's portfolio are a major drag on B of A's balance sheet, this could help clean up that nasty little mess a heck of a lot sooner.
One Fool's take
This news is good indeed, and it comes on top of B of A's recent announcement that its capital cushion has been amply restocked. The fact that all this good stuff is occurring close to the end of the year will likely give the bank's stock momentum going into 2013, as investors remember 2012 as the year Bank of America made some real headway.