updated 12/2/2009 7:16:15 PM ET 2009-12-03T00:16:15

Bank of America Corp. said Wednesday it plans to repay its $45 billion in government bailout funds in the next few days, a move that will help the troubled bank recruit a new CEO.

The bank said in a statement it would use available cash and raise $18.8 billion in capital to repay the money, which it received during the height of the credit crisis last year and after its purchase of Merrill Lynch & Co. earlier this year.

Bank of America has been searching for a successor to CEO Ken Lewis since the bank announced in late September that he planned to retire on Dec. 31. But the bank, burdened with government restrictions and close oversight after accepting the Troubled Asset Relief Program funds, has so far been unable to sign a new chief executive.

"It removes the stigma that we've had as a company," spokesman Bob Stickler said of the planned repayment. "We become more attractive to a CEO candidate. Whether that means we get somebody external is impossible to say."

The bank has said it was considering candidates from inside and outside the company. Stickler said a decision is expected "in the near future."

Investors were relieved by the news, and sent Bank of America stock up 3.3 percent in after-hours trading.

"It's great news," said Alan Villalon, senior research analyst at Minneapolis-based First American Funds. "It removes some overhang so hopefully a CEO can come in with a clean slate."

Villalon said the effort to repay TARP might be a signal that the bank is focused on luring an external candidate.

Banking analyst Bert Ely agreed that the restrictions put forth by federal pay czar Kenneth Feinberg have likely been an obstacle to finding the best possible CEO candidate.

"There could be someone saying, 'I'm not going to take this job unless you pay back the money and get out from under the pay czar," Ely said.

The Treasury Department said in a statement it was pleased that Bank of America planned to repay the TARP funds.

The bank said it has paid $2.54 billion to the government so far in dividends on the TARP money. BofA said it is not yet exercising its right to repurchase warrants that the government received in return for the bailout money. Warrants are financial instruments that allow the holder to buy stock in the future at a fixed price.

As of Oct. 31, nearly 50 financial companies returned a total of $72.3 billion in bailout money. Other big banks, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley, repaid their bailout funds after they were given permission to do so by the government in June.

Treasury also made $6.79 billion in dividends from the TARP money and $2.90 billion selling warrants.

Bank of America received $25 billion as part of the initial round of bailouts when the credit crisis peaked last fall. It then received an additional $20 billion in January shortly after it acquired Merrill Lynch and it was learned that the Wall Street firm had billions of dollars in losses that Bank of America did not anticipate.

The bank said it will issue $18.8 billion in what are called common equivalent securities to help fund the repayment. It currently does not have approval from shareholders to increase the number of its common shares outstanding, but once it obtains that approval, investors holding these securities will be able to swap them for common shares.

Bank of America plans to hold a special meeting with shareholders in the next few months to vote on increasing the share count. The company also said it plans to raise an additional $4 billion from the sale of certain business units in the coming months.

Whoever becomes the new Bank of America CEO will have to deal with the rising losses on loans that all banks are contending with. Consumers unable to keep up with their bills have been defaulting on loans including mortgages and credit cards.

Bank of America lost $2.2 billion in the third quarter. Its losses were offset somewhat by investment banking income from Merrill Lynch.

The bank is also still facing investigations from federal and state regulators into whether it misled shareholders about the Merrill Lynch deal, including the fact that employees were given billions of dollars in bonuses shortly before the acquisition closed Jan. 1. At the time, Bank of America was also seeking the additional $20 billion in bailout money.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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