Wells Fargo Dominates

If the madness of bank stocks made you want to duck and cover earlier this week, Wednesday might have given you an equally disturbing bout of vertigo.

Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) shares rose more than 30% on Wednesday after second-quarter earnings beat analyst expectations and the company defied even the most optimistic of bank investors by raising its dividend.(!)

Second-quarter net income came in at $1.8 billion, or $0.53 per diluted share, down about 21% from the $0.67 per diluted share earned in the same period last year. Revenue was a record $11.5 billion for the quarter, up 16% from last year. Provisions for credit losses hurt net income by $3 billion, but, let's be honest, that's a pretty respectable number, all things considered. The huge news of the day, and probably what caused shares to surge, came from a 10% increase in its dividend.

What to make of all this madness
Financial shares as a group made an unbelievable comeback on Wednesday after the obliteration had endured earlier in the week. Wells Fargo's vigor undoubtedly provided fuel for that rally, but should you interpret its earnings as meaning the worst is behind us?  

Wells Fargo's earnings have trounced the stigma attached to the banking sector, but its performance isn't exactly a reflection of what the industry as a whole should expect down the road.

Wells Fargo operated like a bashful school girl compared with some of its rivals in the past several years -- and that's paying huge rewards today. Unlike competitors Washington Mutual (NYSE: WM  ) and Wachovia (NYSE: WB  ) , Wells Fargo didn't make outsized bets with alternative-lending products that are now haunting banks. Unlike Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) and Merrill Lynch (NYSE: MER  ) , it isn't bogged down by the ridiculously complex glut of collateralized debt obligations products, and unlike Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) , it isn't besieged by a wall of worry over the acquisition of a woebegone mortgage lender. Sure, the banking industry as a whole is stuck in a nasty rut, but it's primarily certain segments of the industry that are feeling the heat -- segments Wells Fargo steered clear of.

The bottom line
If you've been bullish on Wells Fargo, you've been reassured. If you've been bearish, you're looking at the wrong bank. Once the smoke clears and the bulk of the credit crunch is behind us, we're likely to be left with two dominating banks that make it out stronger than before: Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) on the investment banking side, and Wells Fargo on the commercial side.

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Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. Bank of America is an Income Investor recommendation. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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