Wells Fargo Dodges the Big Losses

There's really not all that much to say about Wells Fargo's (NYSE: WFC  ) fourth quarter. Obviously there were the results, and the results were really very poor for this historically high-quality bank.

But we're not exactly in Kansas right now. Competitors Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) and Merrill Lynch (NYSE: MER  ) wrote down a combined total of more than $30 billion in paper in the fourth quarter, while Countrywide Financial (NYSE: CFC  ) , the No. 1 mortgage lender in the U.S., agreed to be bought by Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) for practically pennies on the dollar.

So you'll excuse me if I don't have many disparaging comments about Wells Fargo's lousy quarter.

Net income for the fourth quarter was off 38%, despite revenue growth of 8% for the quarter. The decline was largely thanks to a previously announced $1.4 billion loss reserve the company made on some of its home equity loans, along with a higher net charge-off rate. On a full-year basis, Wells grew revenue 10%, but saw its bottom line fall 4%. In an added vote of confidence, Moody's (NYSE: MCO  ) reaffirmed the bank's Aa1, "high quality," credit rating and noted that the bank has enough capital to absorb current losses as well as future losses that the rating agency anticipates.

Though it's not expected that Wells Fargo will suddenly face the harrowing losses that others have dealt with, it's reasonable to expect that 2008 will not be particularly kind to the bank. The U.S. consumer continues to feel the squeeze, which will likely contribute to continued losses in multiple lines of the bank's business. At the same time, net interest margins have been falling across the industry, draining additional profit.

It appears that investors may have gotten in front of a lot of this concern, as the stock is down more than 30% since this time last year. So good times may not be quickly approaching, but it's also not likely that we'll see stocks of Wells Fargo's quality down this much very often.

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