Given his bank gobbled up the biggest broker on Wall Street and the biggest mortgage lender in the country, one can be forgiven for thinking Bank of America‘s Ken Lewis is talking his book. After all, going on CNBC and sounding confident is his primary role right now, with the days ticking down to the release of first-quarter results on April 20 and the bank’s annual meeting nine days later.
In the network’s lengthy interview, there wasn’t much said about shareholder pressure to unseat him after eight years at the helm of the bank. And, having taken $45 billion of federal bailout money and absorbed Merrill Lynch and Countrywide, he had little incentive to talk about bold measures at this point.
The Wall Street Journal says Lewis is set to sell the bank’s Columbia Management unit and may be looking to unload First Republic Bank, though it is not considering a sale of its stake in hedge fund BlackRock. While he spoke earnestly about repaying taxpayers, repeating his regret at having tapped TARP as heavily as he did, Lewis said it would be several quarters before the bank could do so.
That assumption appears to assume the U.S. economy is showing more than only a false bottom right now. The odd pop in housing prices here and there, and a month of somewhat less shockingly dismal auto sales figures, have convinced Lewis to buy into the recovery theory currently making its way through the markets. “We’re at a point where you’re seeing mixed signals, just small mixed signals, some housing sales a little better than you’d think, or some car sales not being quite as bad as you’d think,” he said. “It signals that you’re getting close to the bottom.”
* Norwegian engineering group Aker Solutions will buy shares in four companies from Aker to strengthen its position in offshore and energy, the two companies said. Aker said Aker Solutions will pay 1.39 billion Norwegian crowns ($205.9 million) for shares in the companies.