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Wells Fargo: Another Show of Strength

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Don't let their falling stock prices fool you. Despite being down 3.5% and 3.6% on Friday, Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) started off bank earnings season on solid footing. (See my analysis of JPMorgan's quarter.)

Wells grew its revenue 6% and earnings per share 12% over last year's first quarter. Its EPS tally of $0.75, a share off $4.2 billion in net income, beat analyst expectations by two pennies.

It saw strong performance from its mortgage banking business. Although its total loan portfolio went down from running off its Wachovia loan portfolio, its core lending business increased. It was able to increase deposits and also increased non-interest income by 11%, largely because of the mortgage banking activity. All this led to a return on equity of 12.14% -- not great by Wells' lofty historical standards, but the best since Q2 2009.

Looking at the balance sheet, we see that Wells' charge-off percentage has gone down from an annualized 1.73% in last year's first quarter to just 1.25%, the best since 2007. That allowed it to release $400 million of its reserves for bad loans. Management expects that trend of releasing reserves and boosting net income to continue this year.

And when we turn to Wells' all-important capital position, we see its Tier 1 common equity ratio under the stricter Basel III accounting improving from 7.50% to 7.81% over Q4. We also see Wells employing a reasonable amount of leverage (about 11:1). This comes after Wells passed the Federal Reserve's recent stress tests, which deemed Wells' capital position strong enough to buy back shares and increase its dividend (it now yields 2.6%).

The takeaways
I was quite pleased with Wells' progress on all fronts. It seems to be growing wisely, and I think the upside on the Wachovia acquisition is being underestimated as Wells improves its cross-sell, frees itself from merger-related costs in Q2, and works through Wachovia's substandard portfolio of assets.

As we look forward to the earnings releases from laggards Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) and Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) next week, I think the solid releases from Wells and JPMorgan bode well. They may not do as well as Wells and JPMorgan, but expectations are also lowered.

Wells is a high-quality institution that had another high-quality quarter. For more analysis on high-quality companies, check out our brand-new free report: "5 Stocks Investors Need to Watch This Earnings Season." It details what to look for from Apple and four other must-watch companies as they report their latest results. Access it now.

Anand Chokkavelu owns shares of Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, and Apple. He also owns long-dated options on Bank of America and warrants on Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and JPMorgan Chase. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Wells Fargo and has created a covered strangle position in Wells Fargo. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple and Wells Fargo and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 14, 2012, at 2:20 PM, ronbeasley wrote:

    Excellent article. All the reasons why Buffet owns so much of Wells Fargo. I expect that it will continue to be my largest holding for years to come.

  • Report this Comment On April 15, 2012, at 12:16 AM, justryn wrote:

    Someone please explain why a stock drops after a company anounces record earnings and performance for Q1 on the heels a record breaking Q4 of 2011. I have seen this happen so often that their must be a dynamic that takes place that I am unaware of and would really like an explanation. Thanks

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