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BofA's loan growth drives better-than-expected profit

A Bank of America logo is seen in New York City, U.S. January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

By Imani Moise and Siddharth Cavale

(Reuters) - Bank of America Corp’s (BAC.N) quarterly profit topped analyst estimates on Wednesday as a growing loan book helped it ride out year-end market turbulence, sending the lender's shares up more then 5 percent.

Under Chief Executive Officer Brian Moynihan, the Charlotte-based bank has slashed costs while tightening risk controls, boosting overall profitability while weighing on some businesses like investment banking. Over the last decade the bank cut $30 billion in annualized costs, Moynihan said on a call with analysts.

The second-biggest U.S. bank benefited from 4 percent growth in consumer loans and 2 percent growth in loans to businesses in the fourth quarter, allowing it to capture more revenue from higher U.S. interest rates. Revenue rose in three of the lender's four main businesses.

Global markets, which includes trading, had a revenue fall that mirrored declines at rivals as market volatility resulted in wider credit spreads and pushed some fixed-income clients to the sidelines.

Bank of America, with its large deposit pool and rate-sensitive mortgage securities, relies heavily on higher interest rates to maximize profits.

Its total net interest income, the difference between what a lender earns on loans and pays on deposits, rose 7.3 percent to $12.3 billion. Average deposits rose nearly 2 percent to $1.34 trillion from the preceding quarter.

The results were buoyed by four Federal Reserve rate hikes in 2018 and a U.S. strong job market that kept bad loans in check and borrowing healthy. The bank predicted economic growth would slow in 2019 but remain strong.

Fee income in the investment bank fell 5 percent because of lower debt underwriting and advisory fees.

Earlier in the week JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) missed profit estimates as its fixed-income trading revenue slumped. Citigroup Inc (C.N) likewise reported declines in bond trading, citing the market downturn in December.

BofA's adjusted sales and trading revenue fell 6 percent, with a 15 percent fall in bond trading. The fixed-income weakness was cushioned by an 11 percent rise in equity trading revenue driven by client financing and derivatives.

Asked why Bank of America did not suffer the same kind of drop in overall trading revenue as JPMorgan and Citi, who reported 11 percent declines each, Chief Financial Officer Paul Donofrio told reporters the results reflected the bank's conservative approach.

"We have always said that we are going to run this business in a way that when things are great we may not make as much as some competitors who are swinging for the fences," he said.

While the Fed's forecasts indicate two more rate increases this year, traders are betting the U.S. central bank will not deliver any rate hikes this year and begin cutting rates next year.

But Bank of America executives said there are still indicators pointing to continued economic expansion.

"We still have low inflation, rising wages, low unemployment. And, despite the increase in rates, interest rates remain at all-time lows," Moynihan said.

In a conference call with analysts, Donofrio said, "We don't see anything suggesting a broad-based decline in overall credit quality," despite the fact that the bank moved a few loans to non-performing status after borrowers were downgraded for credit quality.

Non-interest expenses fell 1 percent to $13.13 billion as Moynihan works to streamline the lender's sprawling operations. Two years ago he pledged to cut expenses to $53 billion by the end of 2018 and stick to that level until 2020.

Revenue, net of interest expense, rose 11 percent to $22.7 billion.

Net income applicable to common shareholders rose to $7.04 billion, or 70 cents per share, in the quarter ended Dec. 31 from $2.08 billion, or 20 cents per share, a year earlier, when it took a nearly $3 billion charge related to changes in U.S. tax law.

Analysts on average were expecting 63 cents per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

(Reporting by Siddharth Cavale and additional reporting by Sweta Singh in Bengaluru and Imani Moise in New York.; Editing by Neal Templin and Meredith Mazzilli)