updated 12/12/2008 9:09:25 AM ET 2008-12-12T14:09:25

Bank of America Corp. said Thursday it expects to cut 30,000 to 35,000 jobs over the next three years, as it faces a deteriorating economic environment and tries to absorb Merrill Lynch & Co.

The final number could be even higher, analysts say. Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America said it hasn't yet completed its analysis for eliminating positions, and won't until early next year. The company and Merrill have about 308,000 employees in total, and the cuts will affect workers from both companies and all types of businesses.

Bank of America is considered one of the country's healthier banks, and its decision to slash so many jobs illustrates the breadth of the layoffs hitting the United States. The nation lost more than half a million jobs in November alone, and economists expect many more to come.

Bank of America's action is a particularly hard blow for Charlotte — which is also home to the beleaguered Wachovia Corp., a once strong bank that is now being acquired by Wells Fargo & Co. in what amounts to a fire sale. Just three months ago, when the Merrill Lynch deal was announced, Charlotte was dubbed Wall Street South; now, the banking center is being hit as hard as Wall Street and other towns across America, where people go to work in the morning unsure if they will still have a job that night.

Thursday's announcement of job cuts at Bank of America was hardly unexpected, considering the merger and the wave of job losses seen in the banking industry and in other sectors over the past few months. Bank of America and Merrill Lynch have already eliminated thousands of investment banking jobs over the past year, as have other banks, in an effort to lower costs as they face increasing defaults in mortgages, credit card debt and other loans.

With no end in sight yet to the economy's troubles, Bank of America might have to slash even more jobs as loan losses mount, said Alois Pirker, a senior analyst at Boston-based research firm Aite Group. If the company's earnings worsen from this year to next, "I think that might lead to more reductions."

Other big banks — which have all received loans from the government's bailout fund — have been cutting jobs as well.

New York-based Citigroup Inc. has been slashing jobs the most. By next year, Citigroup expects to have shrunk its work force by 75,000, or 20 percent, since its headcount peaked in late 2007.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. is shedding about 7,000 employees, or 10 percent, of its investment bank staff, and cutting 9,200 jobs at Washington Mutual Inc., the bank it acquired in September. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley, meanwhile, are reducing their staffs by about 10 percent.

The massive layoffs have raised questions about executive pay: With so many people losing their jobs, should the companies' executives still receive lucrative packages? CEOs at Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Corp. have yet to reveal whether they will receive bonuses this year, but those at Merrill, Morgan Stanley and Goldman have announced that they will forgo them.

Some argue, though, that the shotgun deal between Bank of America and Merrill, valued at $50 billion when it was initially announced in September, may have saved jobs in the end. It was struck as the solvency of investment banks was in grave doubt, and kept Merrill from a complete meltdown like the one suffered by Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., which was forced to file for bankruptcy. Shareholders of both companies voted to approve the deal last week and it is expected to close by Jan. 1.

Bank of America shares fell $1.78, or 11 percent, to close at $14.91 on Thursday, while Merrill shares fell $1.43, or 10 percent, to $12.67.

In after-hours trading, Bank of America shares rose 12 cents to $15.03, and Merrill shares rose a penny to $12.68.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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