Q: My shares of Bank of America Corp. haven't done much. Does the future look brighter? C.R., via the Internet

A: The No. 2 U.S. bank in assets, behind Citigroup, has more than 5,700 branches in 29 states and the nation's largest credit card business.

But its growing influence extends beyond size alone.

It recently acquired a $2 billion equity stake in Countrywide Financial Corp., the nation's largest mortgage company, to shore up that beleaguered lender.

The investment in Countrywide preferred stock can be converted into common stock, which would give it a 16 to 17 percent stake in Countrywide.

It can draw upon Countrywide mortgage knowledge while profiting if its stock rebounds.

Shares of Bank of America (BAC) are down 8 percent this year following a gain of 16 percent last year. The quarterly dividend was increased by 14 percent, to 64 cents per share, payable Sept. 28 to shareholders of record Sept. 7.

Here's a fan: Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. has added Bank of America to its holdings. It now holds 8.7 million shares, less than 1 percent of the total outstanding, according to regulatory filings.

Bank of America earnings rose 5 percent in the second quarter on increased consumer fees and capital markets activity.

It is increasing its automated teller machine fees for non-customers at bank and in-store locations to $3 in most U.S. markets, a $1 increase.

Consensus rating on the shares is between a "buy" and "hold," according to Thomson Financial, consisting of five "strong buys," six "buys" and 11 "holds."

Most criticism of Bank of America focuses on its aggressiveness in offering zero-fee products that attract customers but not necessarily profits and on its expensive acquisition sprees.

It is paying $21 billion to buy Chicago-based LaSalle Bank Corp. and has completed the $3.3 billion purchase of the U.S. Trust business from Charles Schwab Corp. Previous acquisitions included FleetBoston and credit card company MBNA Corp.

Bank of America is precluded from any more large domestic acquisitions because it has nearly reached the 10 percent maximum legal share permitted in U.S. deposits. So it is expanding into new financial businesses.

Earnings are expected to increase 5 percent this year, versus 6 percent projected for the money-center banking industry.

Next year's forecast of a 7 percent increase compares to 9 percent predicted industrywide. The expected five-year annualized return of 7 percent compares to 9 percent for its peers.

Q: Olstein All Cap Value Fund interests me. Is it worth my money? F.C., via the Internet

A: It makes sure there's no monkey business in the accounting methods of the companies whose stock it buys.

Seasoned contrarian manager Robert Olstein uses cash flow analysis to find discounted companies with conservative accounting methods.