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The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights: Bank of America Corporation, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide

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For Immediate Release

Chicago, IL – August 31, 2012 – announces the list of stocks featured in the Analyst Blog. Every day the Zacks Equity Research analysts discuss the latest news and events impacting stocks and the financial markets. Stocks recently featured in the blog include Bank of America Corporation (BAC - Free Report) , Citigroup, Inc. (C - Free Report) , JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM - Free Report) , Wells Fargo & Company (WFC - Free Report) and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. .


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Here are highlights from Thursday’s Analyst Blog:


BofA Trails in Loan Refinancing


Bank of America Corporation (BAC - Free Report) failed to complete a large number of mortgage modifications under the $25 billion settlement deal. This was stated in a report presented by the official, scrutinizing the foreclosure settlement agreement between the U.S. government and some of the nation’s largest banks.

This report analyzed the performance of the banks for the first time after the deal was inked in March 2012. Under the settlement deal, the five banking biggies – BofA, Citigroup, Inc. (C - Free Report) , JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM - Free Report) , Wells Fargo & Company (WFC - Free Report) and Ally Financial Inc. – are required to provide around $20 billion of relief to homeowners on the verge of eviction. These banks will be needed to reduce loan balances for struggling borrowers and refinance the loans for customers whose homes are worth less than the value of their mortgages.

The report states that the five banks have provided nearly $10.6 billion in relief during the period of March 1 to June 30. This has served an average of $77,000 to about 137,000 customers.

Out of $10.6 billion, approximately $8.7 billion have been contributed via short sales with BofA leading the way with $4.8 billion of short sales. Now, short sales refer to vending of homes by owners for a value lesser than the mortgage amount.

However, BofA is falling behind in the mortgage modification process as it is consuming more time to underwrite the modified loans. The company had presented $2 billion in first-lien mortgage modification trial offers and has about $803 million in trial offers in process. In comparison, JPMorgan has concluded first lien modifications worth $367 million, an amount half of its required modifications.

Moreover, BofA has not been able to finish its share of refinancing up to June 30. The company has executed $54.2 million in second-mortgage modifications, which are home equity loans.

Taking into consideration all the types of relief extended by the banks, BofA tops the list with $4.9 billion in aid, followed by JPMorgan with $3 billion, Wells Fargo with $1 billion, Citigroup with $873.4 million and Ally Financial with $755.8 million. Though the amount totals more than $10 billion, the banks are not yet midway to achieve their goals as settlement provides limited credit for certain category of assistance.

Though the settlement deal came as a big relief for the banks, they are required to meet the targeted commitments or pay fines instead. If BofA and four other banks are not able to meet the targeted modification commitments over a period of three years, they could face penalties of 125–140% of the deficit. These banks are required to complete 75% of the commitments by the end 2014 and the remaining in the next 12 months.

Though BofA has topped the short sales count, modification of the loans constitutes a bulk of the assistance to be provided to consumers. Therefore, it will be better for BofA to step up its efforts to accelerate its modification process as soon as possible. Otherwise, it can lead to huge financial implications.

BofA currently retains its Zacks #3 Rank, which translates into a short-term Hold rating. Considering the fundamentals, we maintain a long term Neutral recommendation on the stock.



Starwood’s Aloft Debuts in Carolina


Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. recently announced the opening of its first hotel – Aloft Asheville Downtown – under its Aloft brand in Asheville, North Carolina. The hotel, which marked the 60th worldwide opening of Starwood Aloft, will be managed by McKibbon Hotel Group, Inc.

Asheville, the 11th largest city of North Carolina, is the county seat of Buncombe County. The city enjoys excellent urban infrastructure and is conveniently linked to major interstate highways and an airport. The diverse architectural background and exotic scenic beauty of the city has been a major enticement for leisure and business travelers.

Strategically located in Biltmore Avenue, Aloft Asheville Downtown hotel is in close proximity to major tourist spots of the city.  These include Asheville Art Museum, Biltmore Estate and Asheville Mall. A concept of urban and cultural fusion at the hotel aims to cater to modern travelers seeking a unique experience.

Starwood has set a new trend in hotel designs with one of its lifestyle brands Aloft. The brand aims to attract  tech-savvy, next-generation customers. Aloft has spread its operations globally with around 60 hotel openings since its launch in June 2008.

The Aloft brand is currently on a high growth trajectory and has left its mark in the main regions of North America, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, India, Southeast Asia and China.




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