Once upon a time banks made money in one of two ways: either by borrowing short and lending long, a/k/a the conventional banking way, or through investment banking, which includes advisory, underwriting and trading with the backstop of billions in deposits, aka the proto-hedge fund way.
Then things changed.
For a profoundly philosophical, if comically metaphysical essay, that uses several thousand excess words and footnotes to come to the miraculous conclusion that bank accounting is, get this, fickle, the following Bloomberg take should be an amusing way to kill a few extra hours. Philosophical ramblings aside, it is, of course, very easy to determine if a bank made or lost money, and that does not even involve looking at the cash flow statement. One looks at the Non-GAAP bottom line and excludes the "excluded", or added back items.
As a reminder, the reason non-GAAP exists in the first place, is to goalseek an already meaningless number to just a cent or two above Wall Street consensus, so as to kickstart the buying of the stock by headline scanning algos. Because EPS may be meaningless but stock-tied compensation/incentive awards are quite meaningful, and lucrative, to executives.
Still, even when it comes to the wizardry of non-GAAP, for a number to be somewhat credible, it has to follow a few basic guidelines, namely that in order for an expense or charge to be "excluded" from the bottom line, it has to fall within the "one-time", "non-recurring" category. Add it back too many times and the magic falls apart as even the mutually-accepted fabulation by circle-jerking ostriches that is non-GAAP. promptly evaporates.
Which is why we ask: why do Wall Street "analysts" continue to add back Bank of America's legal and litigation charges and settlements from its bottom line when calculating its non-GAAP EPS?
As the chart below clearly show, any myth that Bank of America's legal fees are "one-time" or "non-recurring" is by now long dead and buried. In fact, in 2014 they have never been greater!
How does this nearly $30 billion in legal "addbacks" over the past three years compared to the so-called Net Income Bank of America generated over the same time period? Here is the answer:
In short: between Q4 2011 and Q3 2014 Bank of America produced "Net Income" of $15.9 billion. However, the amount of added back "one-time, non-recurring" legal expenses is a stunning $28.9 billion: two of every three dollars, non-GAAP as they may be, comes from Bank of America engaging in criminal activity... and that's just the stuff it got caught for.
So perhaps an even more relevant question than how long will the EPS "addback" bullshit continue, is how long will the regulators and enforcers allow Bank of America to exist as an organization for which two-thirds of its "ordinary course business" is, for lack of a better word, crime?