Bank of America's Lewis caught in 'struggle of his life'

Charlotte ObserverJanuary 14, 2009 

Amid the banking industry's troubles last year, Bank of America Corp. chief executive Ken Lewis won praise for buying up weakened rivals.

Now, as the economy and financial markets continue to founder, Lewis is running into troubles of his own.

The Charlotte bank's stock is down 24 percent this year after a 66 percent drop last year. The board has already halved the bank's lucrative dividend, and analysts are expecting a further reduction. The bank is set to disclose fourth-quarter earnings next week and could announce a rare loss.

Lewis also has his hands full with the Countrywide Financial Corp. and Merrill Lynch & Co. acquisitions he forged last year. As part of these deals, the bank is cutting up to 42,500 jobs to reduce costs, and the layoffs are starting to hit home in Charlotte. The bank told state and local officials this week that it's laying off 139 workers in Ballantyne.

In addition, the Merrill purchase is stoking concerns of a destructive culture clash after top Merrill executives departed last week.

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