Bank of America returns to profit

US giant Bank of America today revealed it returned to profit in the first three months of 2010 as the sector's recovery gathers pace.

BoA reported first quarter net income of $3.2bn (£2.1bn) against losses of $194m in the final three months of 2009.

Its profit cheer follows better-than-expected figures from fellow Wall Street major JPMorgan Chase earlier this week, when the group posted a 54 per cent hike in profits.

The strong start to America's bank earnings season has spurred on UK listed banks, with part-nationalised player Royal Bank of Scotland the biggest beneficiary today.

RBS shares soared more than 8 per cent - to the highest level for six months - thanks also to a positive note from broker Morgan Stanley, which raised its target price on the group and said sentiment for all the UK banks had improved amid the recent economic recovery.

Barclays and taxpayer-backed Lloyds Banking Group joined RBS in making share gains, up more than 2 per cent each.

BoA, which bought fellow investment bank Merrill Lynch at the height of the financial crisis, said its result reflected "a gradually improving economy".

Brian Moynihan, chief executive of BoA, said: "With each day that passes, the 2010 story appears to be one of continuing credit recovery."

Its better-than-expected profits came as strong trading revenue helped the bank offset continuing losses on consumer loans.

But BoA said losses in most consumer loans portfolios fell during the quarter, echoing similar comments from rival JP Morgan on Wednesday.

Money set aside by BoA to cover credit losses dropped by $3.6bn in the first quarter compared with a year earlier.

However, the figures showed the ongoing effect of the banking woes on BoA, with bad debt charges still at a mammoth $9.8 bn and the first quarter net profits down 24 per cent on a year ago.

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