Bank of Americas brokerage units posted record first quarter results even as the firm underperformed earnings estimates.
While firm-wide net income of $2.26 billion fell below expectations, the Global Wealth and Investment Management division, including Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, Global Wealth and Retirement Solutions, U.S. Trust, and Bank of America Global Capital Management, reported record earnings on Wednesay. Revenue rose 7% from a year ago to $4.4 billion thanks to higher asset management fees, stronger market performance, higher transactional revenue and higher net interest income. Net income also rose 31% from last year to $720 million.
Assets under management across the wealth management divisions ticked up as well, driven by record long-term inflows and stronger market activity, the firm reported. Client balances in the wealth management division rose 6% from a year ago to $2.25 trillion and assets under management grew $67.7 billion year-over-year to reach $745.3 billion. Fee revenue from those assets jumped up nine percent on the year to $1.6 billion.
Profits were boosted by higher pretax margins, which rose to 26% in the first quarter. The provision for credit losses declined $24 million in the past year and, and a noninterest expense of $3.3 billion remained relatively unchanged as higher volume-driven expenses and litigation expense were offset by lower other personnel costs, the firm said.
Those results helped lift numbers firm-wide thanks to referral business from the wealth management segment. The company reported a $19 billion net migration of deposits to Consumer and Business Banking during the first quarter. Loan balances for the period grew $9.1 billion, or nine percent, to a record $107 billion. Total referrals between lines of business doubled year-over-year at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, the firm said.
Merrill Lynch specifically posted strong numbers and record assets under management. Revenues rose 6.9% to $3.7 billion, and client balances reached a new high of $1.8 trillion.
More clients moved their assets into fee-based relationships and accessed managed solutions, the firm added.
Merrill Lynch reported a decline in headcount of 441 advisors, however, bringing the total number of financial advisors to 14,474. The firm attributed the drop to the attrition of underperforming advisors in the PMD training program.
Experienced advisor losses to the competition was the lowest since Q2 2011, the firm said.
That helped to boost productivity per advisor 4.7% over the last quarter as average revenue numbers per advisor at Merrill Lynch reached $971,000.
Revenue at the U.S. Trust division was up as well, advancing $31 million from last quarter to $721 million. Client assets reached $355 billion, the highest since 2009.
Headcount at the U.S. Trust division also reached a peak of 272 private client advisors. The firm said it had retained all of its top-tier advisors and would continue to build up that number throughout the year.
Overall, Bank of America shares were down following the announcement as net income rose to $2.62 billion, or 20 cents a share, from a year earlier, which was below most estimates of 23 cents a share, according to Bloomberg.
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