On June 11th, Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) was handed a $7.6 billion windfall when a New York court ruled that billions of dollars in legal claims against the bank are now barred by a six-year statute of limitations.
It's safe to say the news was welcomed with open arms at the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank. In addition to lopping off billions of dollars in existing legal claims, the ruling throttled the inflow of new ones. An average of $2.6 billion in claims were filed against Bank of America in each of the four quarters leading up to the decision; this dropped to only $224 million in its wake.
Bank of America's stock price must have soared when the decision was announced, right?. After all, legal costs have proven to be a major impediment to the $2.2 trillion bank's recovery from the financial crisis.
But this isn't what happened. Bank of America's shares shadowed Citigroup's from the beginning of April through the end of June. And on both June 11th and 12th, Bank of America's stock closed lower than it had on June 10th, the day before the decision was handed down.
The trading volume of Bank of America's shares tells a similar story. On June 11th, 76.7 million shares changed hands, only slightly more than an average June day. And the day after the announcement proved to be the second slowest trading day that month.
It wasn't until Bank of America reported earnings more than a month later, on July 15th, that investors seem to have taken note, sending shares 3% higher after the bank's breakout quarter. I say "seem to have taken note" because the reaction could have been (and to a large extent probably was) triggered simply by the bank's better-than-expected headline performance.
To be fair, the oversight in June wasn't entirely investors' fault. Only two mainstream media outlets picked up on the case at the time -- Bloomberg and CNBC -- neither of which traced its implications to Bank of America, as the immediate parties to the dispute were Deutsche Bank and a company named Ace Securities Corporation.
This flies in the face of assumptions that the market responds instantaneously to publicly available information, as presumed by the efficient-market hypothesis. Along these same lines, it also leaves open the possibility that investors are still missing the point about the legal decision's significance to Bank of America.
This is a wildly unappreciated victory for the nation's second biggest bank. It clears the way for billions of dollars in annual revenue to go to shareholders as opposed to legal claimants. As such, it could very well signal the turning point in Bank of America's post-crisis prospects.