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Thompson faces calls to resign at Wachovia annual meeting

By IEVA M. AUGSTUMS
AP Business Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ A line of shareholders formed at the microphone Tuesday at Wachovia Corp.’s annual meeting, and those demanding the resignation of suddenly beleaguered chief executive Ken Thompson drew applause from the raucous crowd.

“I realize that this is a very painful and frustrating time,” said John Moore, a longtime shareholder in the Charlotte-based bank. “I do believe it is in the best interest of shareholders, management and Wachovia for a change in leadership.”

The meeting came a little more than a week after the nation’s fourth-largest bank reported a first-quarter loss of $393 million and announced a 41 percent cut to its dividend.

Thompson had previously promised the bank’s dividend wasn’t in danger and had staunchly defended the bank’s roughly $25 billion purchase of Golden West Financial Corp., a deal whose failings contributed to the quarter’s loss.

“I’m not here to sugarcoat things, to make excuses or to tell you we’re a victim of circumstance,” Thompson said at the start of the meeting.

Like many of the nation’s other leading banks, Wachovia has been hammered by the collapse of the nation’s housing market. Shares of the bank’s stock have fallen 54 percent in the past year. Wachovia shares were down 42 cents to $26.01 Tuesday afternoon.

“Owning Wachovia shares seems to be a crap-shoot,” said shareholder Tom Pearson, of Charlotte. “Bank stock shouldn’t be like that.”

Thompson highlighed some of Wachovia’s strengths _ including deposit growth and customer satisfaction _ during his presentation. And he admitted, once again, that the 2006 deal for Golden West was an “ill-timed acquisition.” Wachovia bought the Golden West at the height of the nation’s housing bubble and the company’s loans were concentrated in hard-hit California.

Thompson concluded his prepared remarks by saying, “Now our job to lead the company through this period.”

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, Wachovia’s board expressed its confidence in Thompson while acknowledging that the veteran banker needed to focus on regaining credibility with shareholders.

Thompson reiterated the point Tuesday, telling the crowd, “There’s nothing more important to me or this management than to restore credibility.”

___

On the Net:

Wachovia Corp.: http://www.wachovia.com

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