Advocacy Group Goes Undercover At Bank Of America, Alleges Discrimination

Advocacy Group Goes Undercover At Bank Of America, Alleges Discrimination

By Andrew Dunn, The Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The nonprofit National Fair Housing Alliance said Tuesday that it conducted an undercover investigation of Bank of America Corp. in Charleston, S.C. — and claimed it found evidence that the Charlotte bank discriminated against potential Latino borrowers.

The organization filed a formal complaint with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. It says it conducted a series of tests that showed that Latinos were not given the chance to speak to loan officers or were quoted higher interest rates than whites.

In a news release, the organization said it sent a series of white and Latino potential customers into a Bank of America branch to talk with employees. In one instance, a prospective white borrower was sent into a branch to talk about a mortgage and immediately got a call from a loan officer. A Latina prospective borrower went into the same branch but never got a call, the alliance says.

The organization did not say how many such exercises it conducted, or how it reached its conclusions.

Bank of America spokesman Terry Francisco said the National Fair Housing Alliance had not provided the bank with details of its complaint. He said if HUD pursued an investigation, the bank would cooperate fully.

“Bank of America is committed to fair and responsible lending and has a strong record of supporting all local communities, regardless of demographic makeup,” he said in a statement. “Customers from minority communities account for one in every four home loans we originate.”

In an earlier complaint, the alliance alleged that Bank of America did not keep up foreclosed properties in minority neighborhoods in more than a dozen cities. Wells Fargo & Co. settled similar claims brought by the alliance for $42 million.

In 2011, Bank of America agreed to pay $335 million in a settlement with the Justice Department to resolve claims that Countrywide Financial Corp. discriminated against black and Hispanic borrowers who applied for home loans.

Photo: thecloverhunter via Flickr

Financial Advisers Unfazed By Stocks’ Shaky Start To Year

Financial Advisers Unfazed By Stocks’ Shaky Start To Year

By Andrew Dunn, The Charlotte Observer

If you took a look at your 401(k) last year, you probably liked what you saw.

But the start of 2014 has been a completely different story. The stock market has taken a bit of a plunge in the first few weeks of the year after a record-setting 2013.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down nearly 3 percent for the year after sinking more than 5 percent in January. It’s not much by historical standards, but the change has been something of a shock after the rally of the past two years. Financial advisers and investment professionals say it’s all part of a market functioning well.

“This is very healthy for the markets. This is very normal,” said Don Olmstead, managing partner of Novare Capital Management in Charlotte, North Carolina. “We do not think this is 2008 or 2009 all over again.”

Last year, 2013, was a banner year for the stock market. The Dow set record highs on 52 trading days, and topped 15,000 and later 16,000 for the first time. But the last three months of the year also set the stage for the current downturn.

Markets soared 10 percent as the Federal Reserve decided to hold off on winding down its massive economic stimulus. Normally, that’s the kind of jump you might see in an entire year. And while corporate earnings were good, they weren’t growing as fast as the stock market.

“At that point, we just needed a trigger,” said John Lynch, regional chief investment officer for Wells Fargo.
Such a trigger came quickly. Data from China showed the country’s growth was slowing. The Federal Reserve also started the long-awaited taper of its bond-buying program. Investors began taking their money out of the higher-volatility stocks that did so well in 2013.

“The pendulum swung a little too far toward the higher-risk names,” said Daniele Donahoe, president of Rinehart Wealth Management in Charlotte. “You go that long without a proper correction, you’re just bound to have one.”
Part of it came from investors wanting to realize some of the price gains they booked over the course of the past year. Others sold stock to ease their tax burden. But in general, they wanted to make sure a rising market was sustainable over the long term.

“You’ve got people a little more cautious right now and taking profits from 2013,” said Kendrick Mattox, the Charlotte-based senior investment adviser of Edge Capital Partners. “They’re now in the wait-and-see mode to see if earnings are going to drive the market further.”

But what should people do now? The first thing, advisers say, is not to get too worked up. There hasn’t been a correction in the market — defined as a 10 percent pullback — since summer 2011. There’s usually one every year.

And smaller pullbacks happen even more often. There’s been nearly a score of them since the markets began rallying after the financial crisis.

“This could be our 19th nervous breakdown,” Lynch of Wells Fargo said. “That’s the environment we’re in right now until people get a better handle on what’s happening.”

Most likely, advisers say, this market downturn won’t last. They say they’re still bullish on stocks for the next three to five years.

“People just need to take a breather and look at the markets and make sure that the fundamentals are still intact,” Mattox of Edge Capital said. “It’s kind of like working out or lifting weights. If you have a slight tear in your muscle after working out, it grows back stronger.”

In most cases, it’s most wise to stick to the plan, the advisers said. In some instances, the pullback gives an opportunity to put more money back into stocks.

“Now is the time to stick with what you have,” Olmstead said. “If you’re already invested, stick to your asset allocation. If you’ve got cash on the sideline, we think now in particular is an excellent time to get in.”

Mattox also said he’s putting slightly more money into equities now that prices are lower.

Donahoe suggested taking a look at blue-chip companies such as IBM Corp. or Kellogg Co., which have grown more slowly in the past year. “We actually think there’s been some good buys out there,” she said. But the overall message, as Lynch puts it: “Stay the course.”

AFP Photo/Timothy Clary