3 Things to Watch When Wells Fargo & Co Announces Earnings This Week

With the calendar officially turned to July, the second quarter is on the books and earnings season is upon us. There are three things investors must watch when Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) kicks it off this Friday.

Continued loan and deposit growth
As shown in the chart below, one of the things Wells Fargo publicized at its recent investor day was its performance relative to that of its peers like Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) and Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) , especially its ability to grow its loans and deposits over the last year:

Source: Company Investor Relations.

But it's also important to recognize that trend only continued in the first quarter, as Bank of America saw its loans fall by 1.5%, or $12 billion, and Citigroup saw its drop by $1.2 billion. Wells Fargo, on the other hand, saw its rise by $4.1 billion, which represented a gain of 1%. 

Source: Company Investor Relations.

And while both Bank of America and Citigroup are also trying to unwind the non-strategic loans on their balance sheets, you can see the year over year growth is even more impressive at Wells Fargo when you consider its core loans have risen by 14%, or $90 billion, since the first quarter of 2012, as shown to the right.

Wells Fargo told investors it expects "to grow loans at a rate faster than U.S. GDP growth" -- and, especially as the economy has been plodding along in the second quarter, one would hope it has been able to continue to grow its loans at a rate better than its biggest peers.

Can it post another record?
For 15 quarters in a row, Wells Fargo has posted record quarterly earnings. From its $0.60 per share -- or $3.3 billion in total -- during the third quarter of 2010 to its $5.9 billion, or $1.05 per share, during the first quarter of this year, it has delivered resounding and remarkable growth over the last four years.

Yet knowing the refinancing boom is over and that Wells Fargo earned $2.8 billion from its mortgage banking unit in the second quarter of last year (versus $1.5 billion in the most recent quarter), significant ground will have to be made up elsewhere for the trend to continue.

While it has posted the record by growing its earnings marginally in certain quarters, one has to wonder if its streak is finally coming to an end.

Source: Company Investor Relations.

Efficiency in becoming more efficient
The final thing I'll be watching is the progress of its efficiency ratio -- which essentially measures how much each dollar of revenue costs -- which should continue to fall.

Source: Company Investor Relations.

In the first quarter Wells Fargo posted record earnings despite the fact its revenue fell by nearly $650 million. Part of this resulted from its provision for credit losses -- what it expects to lose on loans -- plummeting by 73%, or $900 million, but another major factor was its expenses dipping by $450 million. As a result, its efficiency ratio fell from 58.3% to 57.9%.

As shown to the left, it bested all but one of its peers in its efficiency ratio in 2013 -- but Wells Fargo has a goal between 55% and 59%. With that in mind, continued improvement will be important to monitor.

The important thing to remember
One quarter's results from a massive bank like Wells Fargo -- or Bank of America or Citigroup, for that matter -- likely will not change the broader investment thesis surrounding the company itself. However, it's important to monitor and track exactly how strong they are or aren't doing relative to peers, and these are three things I'll be watching when Wells Fargo reports its earnings this week.

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Patrick Morris

After a few stints in banking and corporate finance, Patrick joined the Motley Fool as a writer covering the financial sector. He's scaled back his everyday writing a bit, but he's always happy to opine on the latest headline news surrounding Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett and all things personal finance.

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