Bank of America reports higher fourth-quarter profit

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Bank of America on Tuesday reported profit of $3.34 billion for the fourth quarter, an increase from profit of $3.05 billion in the same period a year earlier.

The Charlotte-based bank’s earnings per share of 28 cents beat the 26 cents expected by analysts. Revenue rose to $19.5 billion, from $18.7 billion in the fourth quarter of 2014.

As expected, some one-time items impacted the bank’s results. Those items included a $600 million charge, which Bank of America disclosed last month, associated with it buying back some securities tied to its 2009 acquisition of Merrill Lynch.

Like its peers, Bank of America is paying close attention to its portfolio of loans made to the energy sector, which has been battered by low oil prices.

In the fourth quarter, Bank of America increased the money it sets aside for potential loan losses to $810 million, about four times the level from a year ago. Bank of America said the increase was partly because of its exposure to the energy sector. During the quarter, the bank also reported an increase in energy loans it has given up collecting on.

“We’re very focused on energy, given the volatility in oil prices,” Chief Financial Officer Paul Donofrio said. “We are looking at every loan, all the time, loan by loan.”

Roughly 2 percent of the bank’s loans are tied to the energy sector, he said.

“We feel like we have done an effective job managing this risk,” Donofrio said. “I’m not sending out any red flags.”

The bank’s number of employees and branches continue to fall, as CEO Brian Moynihan remains focused on cutting expenses.

Bank of America reported having 213,280 full-time equivalent employees at the end of December, a decline of 10,435 from the same period in 2014. Its branch count is at 4,726, a drop of 129.

A year ago, Bank of America reported a lower-than-expected fourth-quarter profit as its mortgage and trading businesses slumped.

Bank of America is the last of the four largest U.S. banks to report fourth-quarter results. Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo released their results last week.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, which has its largest employment hub in Charlotte, reported net income of $5.7 billion, flat from a year ago.

New York-based JPMorgan Chase posted net income of $5.4 billion, up 10 percent.

New York-based Citigroup reported net income of $3.34 billion, up from $344 million.