Why Investors Should Not Be Worried About 1 Trend at This Bank

Revenue at Wells Fargo took a turn for the worse in 2013, which was different from what Bank of America, Citigroup, and JPMorgan Chase saw, and investors need to know if they should be concerned.

Feb 19, 2014 at 8:00AM

With the full-year results in for all the biggest banks, Warren Buffett's favorite bank, Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC), had one critical number move in the wrong direction -- and investors need to know if they should be concerned.

The vitally important top line
Banks across the United States had great years in 2013. Bank of America had a net income of $11.4 billion, which nearly matched what it earned over the previous five years from 2008 to 2012 combined. Bottom-line net income at Citigroup was up 84% on the year, and adjusted net income -- which excludes accounting adjustments and other one-time charges -- impressively grew by 15%. Even JPMorgan Chase, with the massive settlements that characterized 2013, only saw its income dip by 16%.

Yet perhaps the most impressive results was seen at Wells Fargo, which reported its highest annual profit ever, and it broke its quarterly net income record for the 11th quarter in a row. In total, net income at Wells Fargo rose from $18.9 billion to $21.9 billion, a gain of 16%. And it once again bested its four peers in every major pertinent profit metric, showing why it commands a premium valuation:

Source: Company Investor Relations.

While Wells Fargo had a number of compelling things going for it, a quick glance at the top-line results reveals something rather startling:

Source: Company Investor Relations.

As you can see, Bank of America and Citigroup delivered impressive revenue growth year over year, with 7% and 11% gains, respectively, and JPMorgan Chase saw its drop slightly. However the revenue at Wells Fargo dipped by 3%, placing it well behind the trend seen by its biggest peers.

Continued growth in income is something to be admired, yet a unique dip in revenue often indicates potential troubles may be ahead, and ultimately, the record profits will be squeezed.

However, in the case of Wells Fargo, this dip in revenue shouldn't cause investors any concern.


Digging further
A quick glance at Wells Fargo's income statement reveals its mortgage banking revenue was cut by almost half when comparing the fourth quarter -- from $3.1 billion in 2012 to $1.6 billion -- and 25% from $11.7 billion to $8.8 billion when looking at the entire year. Yet interestingly, the dip was even larger at JPMorgan Chase, which generated the second-highest mortgage revenue of the big four, where mortgage banking revenue fell by 40% on the year, from $8.7 billion to $5.2 billion.

Wells Fargo is the biggest mortgage originator in the United States, and the boom in refinancing over previous years helped it considerably. However, with interest rates on the rise and refinancing waning, there was no denying the company would see its revenue begin to decline as a result.

However, this shouldn't concern investors, because more than anything, with mortgage rates at historic lows, the massive gains seen in mortgage income were largely a one-time event that Wells Fargo was able to capitalize on, but ultimately understood as a temporary phenomenon that would one day end. This helps explain why even despite falling revenue, its return on average assets rose from 1.41% to 1.51%.

Declining revenue should always raise a red flag for investors, but in the case of Wells Fargo, it was more the result of an abnormal boom seen in 2012 than poor performance in 2013, which means all fears should be dissuaded.

The banking revolution
Do you hate your bank? If you're like most Americans, chances are good that you answered yes to that question. While that's not great news for consumers, it certainly creates opportunity for savvy investors. That's because there's a brand-new company that's revolutionizing banking, and is poised to kill the hated traditional brick-and-mortar banking model. And amazingly, despite its rapid growth, this company is still flying under the radar of Wall Street. For the name and details on this company, click here to access our new special free report.

Patrick Morris owns shares of Bank of America. The Motley Fool recommends Bank of America and Wells Fargo. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at www.fool.com/podcasts.

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to www.fool.com/podcasts, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.


Compare Brokers