UPDATE 1-Bank of America CEO buys 200,000 shrs, stock soars

NEW YORK Wed Jan 21, 2009 8:40pm GMT

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NEW YORK Jan 21 (Reuters) - Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis spent about $1.2 million to buy 200,000 common shares on Tuesday, four days after the largest U.S. bank posted its first quarterly loss in 17 years.

The share purchases by Lewis and five directors suggest confidence in prospects for the bank, which last week posted a $1.79 billion fourth-quarter loss and took a $20 billion infusion from the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to help it absorb Merrill Lynch & Co.

Bank of America bought Merrill on Jan. 1, and has now taken $45 billion of TARP funds. As part of the latest package, the government agreed to share in losses on $118 billion of debt.

According to a Wednesday filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Lewis paid between $5.98 and $6.06 for his shares, well above the Tuesday closing price of $5.10.

Following the transactions, Lewis directly owned 1,460,997 common shares, worth $7.45 million based on the closing price. Lewis also indirectly held 542,235 bank shares through various trusts, and last Nov. 4 bought 86,000 preferred shares.

The directors who bought shares on Tuesday include lead director O. Temple Sloan, who bought 41,800 common shares and then gifted 11,000 of them, a separate SEC filing shows.

Lewis, 61, has been criticized for overpaying for Merrill, and for hastily agreeing to the roughly $19.4 billion merger without fully examining its risks.

Shares of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America have lost more than three-fourths of their value since the purchase was announced Sept 15.

In afternoon trading, Bank of America shares were up $1.62, or 31.8 percent, at $6.72, retracing much of Tuesday's decline. Much of Wednesday's gain came after the share purchases were disclosed. The shares closed last week at $7.18. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Brian Moss)

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