7 Things You Need to Know About Wells Fargo

With more than $1.4 trillion in assets, I wouldn't exactly call Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) an under-the-radar bank, but it typically doesn't make the headlines the way its big-bank peers do. That's a good thing.

If you can be the fourth-largest bank in the U.S., be the top holding in Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway, and still remain as low-drama as Wells can, in my book, that means you're running a big bank the way a big bank is supposed to be run. Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) and Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) CEOs, take note.

Without further ado, then, here are some of my favorite things about Wells: seven easy metrics, benchmarks, and points of view that will help you get your head around this gentle -- but high performing -- banking giant:

1. Outstanding 2012 share-price performance
Many of the country's big banks did well in 2012, but that shouldn't take anything away from Wells' outstanding performance -- it returned 20.23% to shareholders from January 3 to December 31 of last year.

JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) shareholders saw a net gain of 25.70% in the price of their shares over the course of 2012, but they had to live through the agony of the London Whale in the process. There was no similar drama for Wells stockholders.

2. Solid year-to-date share-price performance
Wells shareholders have made a handsome 5.53% on their positions this year. Shareholders in investor darling B of A have only seen a return of 1.25% so far.

But perhaps best of all, Wells shareholders didn't have to endure a $10 billion-plus Fannie Mae settlement for housing-boom misdeeds in the process.

3. Great fourth-quarter performance
For the fourth quarter of last year, Wells grew its revenue by 8.10% year over year and its net income by 23.90%. Kudos to the higher-drama Citi on this metric, though; it grew its income by 25.10% for Q4 on just 5.00% revenue growth for the same period.

4. Fabulous stress-test results
On the Federal Reserve's 2013 stress tests, Wells had an actual Tier 1 common ratio of 9.9% and a stressed minimum of 7%, well above the Fed's 5% requirement. This cool-under-pressure performance allowed the bank to raise its dividend by 20%.  

5. Fabulous return on equity
Return on equity, or ROE, is a favorite metric for bank analysts. Wells has an ROE of 12.89%, easily topping Citi's 4.27%, and blowing B of A's 1.79% out of the water. Wells even beats the ever-boastful JPMorgan on this metric, with its ROE of 10.98%.

6. #1 in U.S. home loans
In case you hadn't heard, let me be the first to inform you that the U.S. housing market is rebounding, thanks in no small part to the Fed's third round of quantitative easing: which is aimed specifically at boosting the housing sector.

The good news for Wells investors is, the superbank is the No. 1 home lender in the country. And as Wells kept its nose very clean in the housing boom of the 2000s, we can likely expect them to do the same now, keeping potential future drama to a minimum.

7. Wells has a CEO you've probably never heard of
John G. Stumpf became president of Wells in 2006, CEO in 2007, and COB in 2010. Yet how often have you seen or heard his name in the news, especially in comparison to JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, or B of A's CEO Brian Moynihan?

"Very little" is the answer. Stumpf keeps his head down (1) because that's his style, and (2) because his keep-your-head-down style keeps the bank focused on taking care of customers, making money for its shareholders, and staying (mainly) out of regulatory difficulty.

Foolish bottom line
I'm obviously a fan of the bank. Don't ask me why I'm not currently invested. I really should be, and might be sooner rather than later. Wells offers big, steady profits and little to no drama: the best kind of investment in any sector.

Wells Fargo's dedication to solid, conservative banking helped it vastly outperform its peers during the financial meltdown. Today, Wells is the same great bank as ever, but with its stock trading at a premium to the rest of the industry, is there still room to buy, or is it time to cash in your gains?

To help figure out whether Wells Fargo is a buy today, check out this premium research report from one of The Motley Fool's top banking analysts. for instant access to this in-depth take on Wells Fargo, simply click here now


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