updated 7/19/2006 2:03:35 PM ET 2006-07-19T18:03:35

Bank of America Corp., the second-largest U.S. bank, said Wednesday its acquisition of credit-card company MBNA Corp. helped lift second-quarter profit above Wall Street projections.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based bank posted profit of $5.48 billion, or $1.19 per share, an 18 percent rise from $4.66 billion, or $1.14 per share, in the year-ago period. Stripping out some $194 million of merger and restructuring charges, BofA reported a profit of $1.22 per share.

Stronger fees from investment banking and its capital markets business helped lift revenue 25 percent to $18.52 billion from $14.78 billion last year.

The results topped Wall Street projections for earnings of $1.10 per share on $17.5 billion of revenue, according to analysts polled by Thomson Financial.

“We offset the difficult interest rate environment with great execution in every line of business, leading to a significant increase in fee income and continued momentum in the growth of shareholder value,” said Chairman and Chief Executive Kenneth D. Lewis in a statement.

The $35 billion acquisition of MBNA turned BofA into the nation’s largest credit-card issuer, and has transformed the bank’s earnings since the deal closed on Jan. 1. The acquisition has allowed BofA’s card-services unit to contribute to almost a third of the bank’s overall profit by adding some 20 million new customers.

The popularity of MBNA’s affinity cards — where cardholders can obtain cards linked to everything from their college to sports teams — has helped boost the card-services unit. The business posted revenue of $5.47 billion, an increase of 163 percent compared to the second quarter of 2005.

In addition, Lewis is well on his way to nabbing the $850 million of cost-savings promised before Bank of America closed on the MBNA acquisition on Jan. 1.

This quarter, the bank aided by some $275 million of cost savings, mostly coming from job cuts. About 4,000 of the targeted 6,000 jobs have already been eliminated.

However, Chief Financial Officer Alvaro de Molina said the real question going forward is which direction consumer credit will take now. He said “the real race will be at what pace credit deterioration occurs” as interest rates begin to pause.

“In terms of customer activity, everything looks really solid in deposits or any aspect of our commercial business,” he said. “The quality of our growth and earnings is very strong.”

But Bank of America reported net interest margin — the difference between what the bank earned on loans and paid on deposits — dropped to 2.85 percent from 2.98 percent in the first quarter.

De Molina said BofA isn’t the only bank hurt by net interest margins. He attributed part of the decline to rising short-term interest rates, and nearly half of it to balance sheet adjustments.

Strength during the quarter was also seen in its consumer and small business banking business, where profit doubled to $3.11 billion. Corporate and investment banking profit edged higher to $1.72 billion, while wealth and investment management earnings rose 14 percent to $634 million.

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