Updated March 30 at 6:25am

BofA settles ‘big kahuna’ mortgage suit as new case looms


NEW YORK – Bank of America Corp. CEO Brian T. Moynihan, who once vowed to wage “hand-to-hand combat” in lawsuits over faulty mortgages, settled one big fight with MBIA Inc. yesterday as another remains unfinished.

The $1.7 billion agreement, which ends a five-year legal tussle with the bond insurer, removes another hangover from Bank of America’s 2008 takeover of Countrywide Financial Corp. While a separate $8.5 billion proposed settlement over claims tied to bad mortgages is awaiting court approval, it shows Moynihan’s strategy is working, analysts said. The lender’s shares climbed 5.2 percent, the most in five months.

“Bank of America had to get this done,” said Pri de Silva, senior banking analyst at CreditSights Inc. Among the bond insurers bringing claims against the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank, MBIA was the “big kahuna. That leaves the private-label one as the last remaining,” he said, referring to the pending deal that’s being challenged in court.

The MBIA settlement moves Moynihan, 53, one step closer to breaking free of the toxic assets that he inherited with Bank of America’s purchase of Countrywide, whose lax standards and subprime loans led to claims of misconduct by investors who bought mortgage-backed bonds. The agreement limits the bank’s liability from bond insurers, one of three broad groups that sought to force it to buy back faulty mortgages, de Silva said.

Drop demands

Bank of America agreed to pay the equivalent of $1.7 billion to MBIA and take a 5 percent stake in the bond insurer, the companies said yesterday in separate statements. The lender also will provide a $500 million line of credit to an MBIA unit, while MBIA agreed to drop demands that soured home loans it had guaranteed be repurchased.

Bank of America also agreed to remit to the insurer $137 million of MBIA’s bonds that it bought in December during a tender offer. The lender bought the debt during an attempt to block bondholder consents to amendments that would have shielded MBIA from being dragged into bankruptcy by its cash-strapped insurance unit. A default notice filed by Bank of America was dropped as part of the settlement.

MBIA first sued Countrywide in 2008 in New York state Supreme Court in Manhattan for fraud and breach of contract related to the securitized home loans.

In January, the company signed an $11.7 billion deal with Fannie Mae, ending claims from government-backed mortgage finance firms, another of the three groups, said de Silva, whose firm is based in New York.

The bank already had settled with bond insurers Assured Guaranty Ltd. for $1.6 billion and Syncora Holdings Ltd. for about $400 million.

‘Legacy issues’

Moynihan said in November 2010 that the firm will engage in “hand-to-hand combat” to fend off demands before agreeing to a string of settlements.

The settlements contributed to the more than $40 billion that Bank of America has disbursed to satisfy claims stemming from faulty mortgages and foreclosures, which Moynihan calls “legacy issues.” The expenses have hobbled the bank’s profits, and investors have pressed him to say when they’ll end.

“Each time we can get past this, put a number on it, lock it up and throw away the key and move forward, it’s a positive for investors,” Marc Pinto, head of corporate bond strategy at New York-based Susquehanna International Group LLP, said in a phone interview. “There’s more certainty about the future.”

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