By Dan Freed and Nikhil Subba
(Reuters) - Bank of America Corp's (BAC.N) quarterly profit rose 44 percent as its investment banking and trading units produced hefty gains, and higher long term interest rates also underpinned results for the second-largest U.S. bank.
Wall Street banks have been energized by increased market activity prompted by the so-called "Trump trade" with the sector rallying since the election on hopes of simpler regulations and tax cuts under President Donald Trump's administration. However, the momentum has lost steam recently as investors scale back some of those expectations.
But investors also changed their positions around recent Federal Reserve interest rate hikes and the possibility of several increases in the future, boosting trading revenue for big U.S. banks.
"This quarter shows the value of our businesses as rates begin to rise and as we experience increased capital markets activity," said BofA Chief Executive Brian Moynihan on a call with analysts on Tuesday.
Gains for BofA were distributed more or less evenly between net interest income, which is driven by the difference between banks' borrowing costs and the rate they charge on loans, and institutional businesses such as trading and investment banking.
Expenses were mostly flat, even as revenues grew in every major business unit. While some analysts expressed skepticism Bank of America will be able to hit a $53 billion expense target in 2018, they were not too troubled in light of stronger revenues.
Bank of America Chief Financial Officer Paul Donofrio told analysts he remained confident the bank would hit its target.
BofA's shares were down about 1.1 percent at $22.56 in mid-day trading, consistent with the broader banking sector and following surprisingly weak trading results from Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N).
JPMorgan and Citigroup also reported better-than-expected quarterly profit last week, driven by strong trading activity.
Moynihan nodded to some weakening in loan demand highlighted in reports last week from rivals JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N), Citigroup Inc (C.N) and Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N).
"We've been able to outgrow the economy, but we're going to be dependent upon the economy to keep growing," he said.
BofA's total revenue rose about 7 percent to $22.45 billion in the three months ended March 31, handily beating the average analyst estimate of $21.61 billion.
"This franchise can grow and all the more so in a rising rate environment; better revenue growth, visible operating leverage and manageable credit cost increases will drive realization of franchise potential," wrote Credit Suisse analyst Susan Katzke in a report published Tuesday.
Revenue from trading activities, excluding special items, rose 21.2 percent to $4 billion, helped by a 29 percent increase in fixed-income trading revenue.
Investment banking income jumped 37.4 percent to $1.58 billion, riding on the back of a strong recovery in global investment banking services, which includes M&A advisory and capital markets underwriting.
Net income surged about 44 percent to $4.35 billion. Earnings per share rose to 41 cents per share, topping the average analyst estimate of 35 cents. (http://bit.ly/2px3E6G)
BofA made $11.06 billion as net interest income in the quarter, up 5.5 percent from a year earlier.
Donofrio said he expected continued improvement in net interest income in the second quarter. However, he added that the increase would be "more modest" than in the first quarter as interest rate movements are providing less of a tailwind for the bank.
The lender relies heavily on higher interest rates to maximize profits as it has a large stock of deposits and rate-sensitive mortgage securities.
BofA's non-interest expenses were nearly flat at $14.85 billion. Moynihan said last year he would make trimming costs a top priority and would shrink annual expenses by an additional $5 billion by 2018.
The bank's efficiency ratio, a closely watched measure of revenue divided by expenses, was 66.2 percent, compared with 70.5 percent a year earlier.
(Reporting by Dan Freed in New York and Nikhil Subba and Sweta Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty, Bernard Orr)