By Richa Naidu and Dan Freed
(Reuters) - Bank of America Corp <BAC.N>, the second-largest U.S. bank by assets, reported its first profit increase in three quarters on Monday, foiling expectations for another drop, as bond trading surged and expenses fell.
Like rivals JPMorgan <JPM.N> and Citigroup <C.N>, Bank of America enjoyed a boost from a resurgence in trading. That came as clients scrambled to reposition after Britain's surprise June vote to leave the European Union, and changing expectations for monetary policy in the United States, Europe and Japan.
Chief Executive Brian Moynihan's cost-cutting campaign also paid off as expenses fell in each of its four major business segments.
On a pretax basis, quarterly profit was at its highest in a decade. Net income attributable to shareholders rose 6.6 percent to $4.45 billion in the third quarter ended Sept. 30 from a year ago. Earnings per share rose to 41 cents, from 38 cents in the same period of 2015. Analysts, on average, had estimated a decline to 34 cents a share.
Revenue grew 3 percent to $21.64 billion, beating the $20.97 billion expected by analysts.
Net profit in Bank of America's trading-focused Global Markets arm jumped 34 percent from a year earlier as revenue from dealing fixed-income securities, currencies and commodities surged 39 percent. Equity trading revenue fell 17 percent.
Last week, JPMorgan reported a 48 percent increase in bond trading and Citi posted a 35 percent gain. Trading in stocks rose 1 percent and fell 34 percent respectively at JPMorgan and Citi.
Like Bank of America, JMorgan, Citigroup and Wells Fargo beat third-quarter profit and revenue forecasts but their net earnings declined; JPMorgan Chase & Co's <JPM.N> by 7.6 percent, Citigroup Inc's <C.N> by 10.5 percent and Wells Fargo & Co's <WFC.N> by 3.7 percent.
Shares of Bank of America were little changed, falling just 0.03 percent in early trading. Ahead of Monday, the stock had shed 4.9 percent since the start of the year, compared to a 2.5 percent decline in the KBW banking index <.BKX>.
After scandal-ridden Wells Fargo & Co <WFC.N> separated its chief executive and chairman roles last week with the retirement of John Stumpf, Moynihan was asked during a conference call on Monday whether he expected renewed pressure to give up his dual role from regulators or shareholders.
"Our lead independent director duty is as strong as anybody's in the industry," said Moynihan, who had faced down a shareholder vote last year over whether to split the roles. He added that he felt "comfortable" with the bank's current governance.
Bank of America's large stock of deposits and rate-sensitive mortgage securities make it particularly dependent on a rise in interest rates to boost profits.
To compensate for stubbornly low interest rates, Moynihan made trimming costs a top priority, saying in July he would cut annual expenses by another $5 billion by 2018, which would take the total to about $53 billion from about $58 billion in 2015.
In the third quarter, non-interest expenses fell 3.3 percent to $13.48 billion as headcount fell by 3 percent.
Like rivals, Bank of America got a boost from a rise in the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, a benchmark for more than $300 trillion worth of financial products worldwide.
Libor moved to a seven-year high during the third quarter as U.S. money market funds scaled back holdings in short-term bank debt in advance of new regulations.
Bank of America's net interest income rose 3 percent to $10.20 billion, the first increase in three quarters.
Like JPMorgan and Wells Fargo, BofA set aside more money to cover potential bad loans. The bank's provisions rose 5.5 percent to $850 million in the quarter.
Income from investment banking rose 13.3 percent to $1.46 billion, driven by higher debt and equity issuance activity.
Revenue for advising on deals tumbled 19 percent as companies held off making acquisitions amid political uncertainty in the United States and Brexit-related volatility in Britain.
Adjusted revenue from Bank of America's wealth and investment management unit, which includes Merrill Lynch, fell 1.7 percent to $4.38 billion, but a 6 percent drop in non-interest expenses helped to boost net income by 10 percent.
The wealth business, which has been a stable source of revenue growth when trading and investment banking revenues have fluctuated, is undergoing its own changes, with a new boss, longtime executive Andy Sieg, expected to take over in 2017 and amid a regulatory overhaul of financial advice in the United States.
(This story corrects paragraph 14 to note that expense cuts aim to bring costs to $53 billion from $58 billion, not the other way around.)
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Dilts and David Henry; Writing by Carmel Crimmins; Editing by Ted Kerr and Bernadette Baum)