Bank of America Airbrushing History on Its Website?

Feb. 3.09 | About: Bank of (BAC)

Uh-oh. On Bank of America’s website, Ken Lewis’s biography could stand some updating:

During his tenure, Bank of America has improved customer satisfaction significantly across every major line of business; annual revenue has increased from $33 billion to $66 billion; annual profit has increased from $7.5 billion to $15 billion; assets have increased from $642 billion to $1.7 trillion; market capitalization has grown from $74 billion to $183 billion; and total annual shareholder returns (including stock price growth plus dividends) have averaged 13.3%, doubling peers, the KBW Banks Index, the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the same period. [Emph. added]

Not anymore. Many of the numbers above are, as people in the Nixon administration used to like to say, “no longer operative.” In particular, that $15 billion in annual income was really just $4 billion in 2008. BofA’s erstwhile $183 billion market value, meanwhile, is now $38 billion. And—to get to the number that shareholders are likely most familiar with—BofA’s stock hasn’t returned 13.3% annually, on average, since Lewis became CEO in 2001. Rather, it has dropped by 18% per year, on average.

I’ll email the PR people at BofA to flag the errors for them. You should, too. I somehow suspect, though, that rather than updating the paragraph above, they’ll save themselves a lot of hassle and embarrassing phone conversations, and cut it altogether. Can’t say as I blame them. . . .

Update: I say it would be understandable if BofA’s PR folks simply cut the paragraph above rather than revise it to include up-to-date numbers. But why should they cut it? If the data was deemed vital enough to include when it made Lewis’s track record look good, it’s presumably still vital enough to include even though it now shows that Lewis could be one of the most incompetent executives in the banking industry. Still, when BofA does get around to revising the bio, does anyone doubt that references to things like market value and shareholder return will be expunged? It’ll be just another small-scale indication of the company's propensity to obfuscate and mislead--not to mention yet another sign of Ken Lewis’s raving egomania.