Moynihan: B of A won't have a JPMorgan like blow upMay 30, 2012: 1:01 PM ET
Bank of America's hedging strategies are "nothing fancy."
FORTUNE -- There is no Charlotte Whale.
Ever since JPMorgan Chase (JPM) announced in early May that it had lost at least $2 billion in what was supposed to be the bank's hedging operations, investors have been scouring other banks to see if they have trades that could produce similar blow ups. On Wednesday, Bank of America (BAC) CEO Brian Moynihan told a group of investors they wouldn't find any of those risky trades at his bank.
Speaking at a Sanford Bernstein investment conference in New York, Moynihan said his bank hasn't put its extra cash into bets on credit default swap indexes or other fancy hedging strategies. He said the bank has tried to get some extra investment income on its excess cash from deposits that haven't been lent out. But he said most of the bank's investments were in high-rated securities. He said B of A does hedge its portfolio, but it doesn't use strategies that could result in big blow ups. Moynihan also said that the bank had closed its proprietary trading desk and is exiting its private equity business in order to bring down risk as well.
A quick glance of B of A's recent financial statement does seem to suggest that the bank is curtailing its risk. The bank upped the holdings in its trading account to $210 billion at the end of the first quarter, from nearly $170 billion a year ago. But much of that increase came from buying government debt, both here and abroad. Moynihan said the bank's direct exposure to Europe had been dropping. B of A also purchased more mortgage bonds backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The bank did increased its "hedges in leveraged credit trading," and it didn't say what exactly those hedges were. All told, though, Bank of America's measure of how much it could lose on any given trading day fell to $84 million in the first quarter, down from $184 million a year ago.
Of course, not hedging has its risks as well. Jamie Dimon has said that one of the risks JPMorgan was trying to hedge against was a quick rise in interest rates. Unhedged, a rise in interest rates could take a big bite out of B of A's Treasury holdings. Indeed, the one area in which the risk of B of A's trading portfolio has gone up is in the losses it could have if interest rates were to jump.
The question is whether B of A has to worry about that risk anytime soon. Many believe that the slow growth economy means that interest rates will stay low for at least the next year, probably longer. What's more, B of A has a natural hedge against rising interest rates. Moynihan said he expects that a number of the bank's businesses, lending for one, would be much more profitable if rates were to rise. Nonetheless, interest rates are something bank investors should keep their eye on. For right now, though, it appears to be more of a minnow of a problem, than a whale.