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Despite economic challenges, a ‘remarkable’ recovery underway, says bank CEO

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

The country is moving out of the economic crisis and showing signs of growth in key areas, though critical challenges remain for businesses and consumers, said Brian Moynihan, chief executive officer of Bank of America, at Northeastern University’s CEO Breakfast forum on Tuesday.

“We had a tough economic decline, but the good news is the United States and Massachusetts are recovering,” said Moynihan, the forum’s keynote speaker.

Northeastern’s CEO Breakfast forums recognize leading CEOs who are invited to speak to an audience of other chief executive officers and senior executives from the Greater Boston area. The program is recognized as one of the leading forums in the country.

In his opening remarks, Moynihan hailed Northeastern’s co-op program, which he said has had a strong impact on American businesses and blossomed globally under the leadership of President Joseph E. Aoun. Later, Aoun thanked Moynihan and presented him with a globe — representing both Moynihan’s status as a “global citizen” and Northeastern’s continuing commitment to expand its international presence.

Moving on to the financial industry, Moynihan listed several encouraging factors, including fewer jobless claims, falling unemployment levels and rising consumer spending.

“The business sector has been pretty remarkable,” Moynihan added. “We went through the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression, and businesses came through it.”

However, Moynihan said businesses remain cautious about investments and borrowing due to uncertainty about consumer trends and regulations, while overseas markets in areas such as Asia and Latin America are becoming more attractive for American businesses.

Moynihan added that housing issues and the foreclosure crisis are “the last part of the cycle” that the nation and the banking industry as a whole are working to solve. He said lending institutions have collectively modified 4 million home mortgages since 2008, including 850,000 at Bank of America. However, he said delinquent mortgages continue to be an area of concern.

Bank of America, he said, has taken other steps to soften the blow for consumers. These include expanding regional centers nationwide for customers to speak face-to-face with bank representatives, donating property to cities in need, and a mortgage modification program specifically for U.S. military members.

Moynihan took over as Bank of America’s president and CEO in January 2010. Bank of America is one of the world’s largest financial institutions, serving individual consumers, small- and middle-market businesses and large corporations with a full range of banking, investing, asset management and other financial and risk management products and services.