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Bank of America profit falls 15.6% in third quarter

FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2019 file photo a passer-by walks past the entrance to a Bank of America ATM, in Boston.  Bank of America Corp. says profit fell 15.6% to $4.88 billion in the third quarter from $5.78 billion a year ago. The bank, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, said Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, that it had earnings of 51 cents per share.  (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2019 file photo a passer-by walks past the entrance to a Bank of America ATM, in Boston. Bank of America Corp. says profit fell 15.6% to $4.88 billion in the third quarter from $5.78 billion a year ago. The bank, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, said Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, that it had earnings of 51 cents per share. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Consumer banking giant Bank of America says third-quarter profit declined 15.6% from a year earlier, but saw less need to put aside money to cover potentially bad loans, citing improvements in the U.S. economy.

BofA was the latest major bank, after JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, to set aside fewer dollars to cover its loan-loss reserves, after the industry set aside tens of billions of dollars in the first months of the pandemic to account for loans — once perfectly good — that were now in trouble as millions of workers lost jobs and small businesses failed.

The North Carolina-based bank said Wednesday that it earned a profit of $4.88 billion, or 51 cents per share, down from a profit of $5.78 billion, or 56 cents per share, in the same period a year earlier. The results missed analysts’ estimates, who were looking for BofA to earn 53 cents a share, according to Zacks Investment Research.

BofA had $1.4 billion in loan-loss reserves in the third quarter, down from the $5.1 billion it set aside in the second quarter. BofA’s loan-loss reserves were higher than JPMorgan's, which only set aside $611 million in the quarter, but less than the $2.26 billion that Citigroup had set aside.

All three banks said their reasoning for setting aside less money toward potential loan losses was the relatively improving U.S. economy. State and local economies have been doing phased reopenings since the pandemic took hold in March of this year in the U.S., with many regions now allowing outdoor dining or the reopening of businesses and offices. While still historically high, the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen from its peaks hit in April and May.

Bank of America was also negatively impacted by low interest rates. The Federal Reserve early this year cut interest rates to near zero to bolster the U.S. economy. That made it cheaper for borrowers to get money, but it cuts into the profits of banks. The bank’s net interest yield — a measurement of how much profit the bank is earning on the loans it approved — was 1.72% in the quarter, down from 2.41% a year earlier.