The economy is “close to the bottom,” according to Bank of America Corp.’s chief executive officer Ken Lewis. Lewis said he believes– like some economists, but certainly not all – that the economy will likely bottom out in the second half of this year before beginning a slow recovery in 2010. “I think we’re at a point where you’re seeing mixed signals, housing sales a little better than you think, or car sales not being as bad as you think,” Lewis said during an interview on CNBC Thursday morning. “And when you see the mixed signals, I think it signals that you’re getting close to the bottom.” Lewis also told CNBC he is “anxious” to return at least a portion of the $45 billion BofA recently received from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, $20 billion of which it received as part of its acquisition of Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc.; although, it’s likely to take several quarters to repay those funds, he added. Lewis expressed regret in BofA’s acceptance of the full $45 billion. “That was my mistake,” Lewis said. “We took more than we needed, in an abundance of caution, and I regret having taken that much.” He said the next six months will be rough but that the current economic downturn is beginning to feel to him more like a typical recession than an all out freefall, according to a Market Watch report. Write to Kelly Curran at Disclosure: The author held no relevant investment positions when this story was published. Indirect holdings may exist via mutual fund investments. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.

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