Bank of America no longer No. 1

Rubber band around rolled up money

You could see it coming for months, but now it's finally happened: JPMorgan Chase has overtaken Bank of America as the nation's largest financial bank by assets.

Based on their third-quarter earnings, JPMorgan Chase grew to $2.29 trillion in assets, surpassing Bank of America, which showed total assets of $2.22 trillion, according to SNL Financial, a Charlottesville, Va., financial information firm.

Bank of America had been the largest U.S. bank by assets since it acquired Merrill Lynch in the first quarter of 2009.

Last April, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan announced an internal plan code-named "Project New BAC" to streamline operations, a move prompted by the ill-advised acquisition of subprime mortgage lender Countrywide Financial by Moynihan's predecessor in 2008.

Bank of America has closed 154 branches nationwide since June 2010, announced plans to trim its workforce by 35,000 in the next few years and accepted a $5 billion loan from financier Warren Buffett.

BofA most recently surprised the banking industry and angered customers by unveiling the first-ever $5 monthly fee for debit card use, to begin in January.

The picture is far sunnier across the street at JPMorgan Chase.

The new No. 1 has pursued an aggressive strategic growth strategy of late that has added 167 new branches in 16 months, increased total deposits by 21% from a year ago and grown total assets by almost 7% over this time last year.

JPMorgan Chase overtook BofA in total deposits last summer and has made overtures to acquire its troubled competitor.

Bank of America's worst year ever continues to play out like a real-life version of the TV show "Lost," with analysts developing office pools over whether BofA will ever make it off the island.

Among the cliffhangers, BofA is being sued by the feds for selling $57.5 billion in toxic mortgage securities through Countrywide and Merrill Lynch, which have turned out to be like the smoke monster on "Lost." Too-big-to-fail insurance giant AIG also is suing BofA for $10 billion for "massive fraud" in peddling mortgage-backed securities. Last month, Moody's Corp. downgraded the bank's credit rating.

Smart money now says BofA may have no choice but to sacrifice Countrywide to bankruptcy if it hopes to survive.

What's the moral of this story? Simple: If you're a bank, stick to banking.

That and don't acquire smoke monsters.

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