Bank of America Corp., one of the nation’s top mortgage lenders by volume, today reported that first-quarter net income climbed 14 percent to $4.99 billion from $4.39 billion a year ago.

Per-share diluted earnings were unchanged from a year earlier at $1.07. Return on average common equity for the first quarter was 15.4 percent.

The financial company’s first-quarter 2005 results did not include MBNA, which Bank of America acquired in January 2006.

Excluding merger and restructuring charges of $98 million pre-tax, equal to 1 cent per share, the company earned $5.05 billion, or $1.08 per share, in the first quarter of 2006. A year earlier merger and restructuring charges of $112 million reduced per-share earnings by 2 cents.

Revenue grew 31 percent while non-interest expense was up 26 percent.

However, on a pro forma basis (including MBNA’s first quarter of 2005 results), revenue increased almost 10 percent while noninterest expense was up only 5 percent. Information regarding pro forma results was included in the Form 8-K filed on April 10, 2006.

This significant operating leverage was driven by continued strong performance in the consumer businesses as well as improvements in trading account profits, equity investment gains and investment banking income, the company said.

The current quarter’s results included $320 million, or 5 cents per share, in expense from the impact of SFAS 123R, which accelerates the recognition of certain equity-based compensation expenses for retirement-eligible associates. In addition, as previously announced, the company terminated certain derivatives used as hedges in asset liability management that did not qualify for SFAS 133 hedge accounting at a cost of $175 million, or 2 cents per share.

“We are off to a great start in 2006,” said Kenneth D. Lewis, chairman and CEO. “We have strong momentum in all our businesses as the benefits from continued execution in our consumer businesses were accompanied this quarter by a rebound in trading and good performance in investment banking and wealth management.”

The company’s home equity division reported $351 million in revenue and $116 million in net income. And the mortgage division reported revenue of $347 million and net income of $72 million.

Bank of America shares (NYSE: BAC) trade at $46.44 this morning, up .85 percent from Wednesday’s closing price of $46.05.

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