Wells Fargo & Co (US)

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Wells Fargo & Co established itself as one of America's biggest banks by erring on the side of caution rather than reckless expansion. Or so it seemed until a series of scandalous revelations starting in late 2016 revealed that at least part of its impressive growth had been assisted by sharp sales practises and false accounting. Sales staff were in effect encouraged by tough targets and an aggressive incentive scheme to cheat the system in order to to earn substantial bonuses, or otherwise risk dismissal. The business was created over the course of two decades from a series of careful acquisitions, not least the purchase in 1998 of the original Wells Fargo company by what was then Norwest Corp. However the defining deal to-date came at the end of 2008. Seizing the opportunities provided by the general meltdown in the financial services industry, Wells Fargo snapped up failing competitor Wachovia, doubling in size to become one of the country's two biggest retail banks, even overtaking rival Bank of America in several areas. It is now America's single biggest financial services company by outlets, with a vast network of 8,600 retail "stores" spread across 39 US states; also the biggest mortgage lender, having overtaken BofA in 2011; and was until late 2016 the world's most valuable bank by market capitalisation.

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Adbrands Weekly Update 19th Jul 2018: US banks kicked off the reporting season with generally strong results. JP Morgan Chase led the charge as usual, with revenues up 6% to $27.7bn, while net income jumped 18% to $8.3bn, helped by higher interest rates and loan growth (and also of course a lower tax charge). "We see good economic growth, particularly in the US, where consumer and business sentiment is high," said CEO Jamie Dimon. Corporate and investment banking were particularly strong, offsetting declines in mortgages and credit cards. Bank of America took a slight hit on revenues, down very slightly to $22.6bn year-on-year because of a one-off gain in the prior period. Stripping out that exceptional item, comparable revenues were up 3% and net profits soared by 33% to $6.8bn. Citi's results were a little more muted, though revenues rose 2% to $18.5bn. In Citi's case, consumer banking generally fared better than investment banking, though the group's treasury and custody services were the strongest performer overall. Net profit jumped 15% to $4.5bn on the lower tax charge. Wells Fargo is still struggling under the cloud of its customer mistreatment scandals, with revenues down 3% to $21.6bn and an 11% fall in net profit to $5.2bn, despite the lower tax rate. The company said rising interest rates are putting homebuyers off new mortgages. There was much better news from Goldman Sachs, where profits soared 40% to $2.6bn on revenues up 19% to $9.4bn. Goldman also confirmed that Lloyds Blankfein will step down as CEO later this year, and will be succeeded by current president David Solomon. Morgan Stanley also reported a big jump of 39% in profits to $2.4bn - its second highest figure ever after 1Q 2018 - on revenues up 12% to $10.6bn.

Adbrands Weekly Update 26th Apr 2018: As forewarned last week, Wells Fargo agreed to pay $1bn to settle allegations of misconduct in its consumer finance division. Hundreds of thousands of customers were overcharged for mortgage fees and unnecessary auto insurance cover. In at least 27,000 cases, customers had their cars repossessed because they had not kept up payments on fees that were themselves improperly imposed. Wells Fargo has four months to come up with a compensation plan for all affected customers. The bank reduced its previously stated net income for the quarter just ended to $4.7bn to reflect the additional penalty.

Adbrands Weekly Update 18th Apr 2018: American banks enjoyed big profit gains from US tax reforms, as well as generally upbeat business sentiment. Net income at JPMorgan Chase jumped by 35% to an all-time record for the bank of $8.7bn, while Bank of America grew 30% to $6.9bn. However both were beaten in percentage terms by Morgan Stanley whose net earnings jumped by 38% to $2.7bn. Goldman Sachs was the next biggest profit jumper, up 26% to $2.8bn, while Citi was up 13% to $4.6bn. Wells Fargo gained 5% to $5.9bn, but said it might be required to restate those figures at a later date to accommodate a forthcoming $1bn regulatory settlement over mis-sold car insurance and mortgage fees. The lower tax rate alone generated a combined total of $2.9bn in extra profit from the six companies. Yet despite those big gains, investors were generally unimpressed by the lack of any significant growth in lending to businesses and consumers. That was one of the key underlying motivations for Republicans' tax reforms: to encourage borrowing and growth in the wider economy. So far, there's no sign of that, as JPMC finance chief Marianne Lake admitted: "I think we have to recognize that tax reform is in its early stages." As far as revenues were concerned, JPMC remained the clear leader among US banks with 12% growth to $27.9bn, but reigning #2 Wells Fargo slipped back to $21.9bn - it was the only bank to report a year on year decline. That allowed BofA to reclaim second place with $23.1bn. Citi had $18.9bn. Morgan Stanley topped Goldman again with $11.1bn to $10.0bn respectively.

Adbrands Weekly Update 18th Jan 2018: Most US companies will take an exceptional hit in their 4Q results from President Trump's tax reform bill, not least the big banks who kicked off the reporting season this week. The cut in the US corporate tax rate will significantly benefit all companies in the future but it creates a short-term problem for businesses that accumulated big losses during the 2008 financial crisis which they had intended to set off for tax purposes against future profits. A lower tax rate will make those deferred credits harder to use, so they now mostly have to be written off. That's a bigger issue for some companies than for others. Wells Fargo - which didn't have much in the way of accumulated losses - reported a one-off gain in 4Q, offsetting additional charges for litigation related to its various sales practises scandals. As a result, net income edged up 1% to $22.2bn, but revenues were flat at $88.4bn.

Adbrands Weekly Update 30th Nov 2017: Wells Fargo admitted further wrongdoing within its sales divisions. Following on from its fake customer accounts scandal, and then the unauthorised auto insurance scandal, and then the inflated mortgage fees scandal, the bank has now uncovered evidence that executives in its foreign exchange department routinely over-charged corporate customers for currency conversions in order to qualify for higher bonuses. The practice came to light following after major client Restaurant Brands International - the owner of Burger King and Tim Hortons - took a loss on a large currency transaction handled by the bank and demanded an internal investigation. Wells Fargo was the only US bank to reward its currency traders with bonuses on the level of revenue they charge out to customers. During the investigation, it uncovered multiple examples where corporate clients had been charged inflated fees on currency exchanges. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the correct fees were charged in only 35 of 300 separate trades. The top four managers in Wells Fargo's foreign exchange department were fired last month as a result of the inquiry. The latest revelation further heightens tensions between the bank and federal regulators, who have already warned they are considering a formal enforcement action that will oblige the bank to correct multiple problems in several departments by a fixed date. It has already issued multiple directives, many of which have yet to be resolved.

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Background

Free for all users | see full profile for current activities: Like most of its competitors the current Wells Fargo has been assembled through merger or acquisition of a string of other groups. The original business was established in California in 1852 by Henry Wells and William Fargo, then the principals of New York's American Express Company. The board of that company considered the Wild West too risky to allow a branch of American Express there, so Wells and Fargo established it as a separate business of their own. The most important commodity carried by the delivery service was gold, and as a result the company soon began to offer commercial banking to its customers. The delivery business was officially spun off in 1905. 

For the next 70 years or so, Wells Fargo was primarily a city bank for San Francisco, but expanded its network to cover all of California by the end of the 1980s through the acquisition of rival Crocker and the local branches of the UK's Barclays. In 1996 it acquired First Interstate Bancorp, a multi-regional banking network first created by the founder of Bank of America in the 1920s. Two years later, Wells Fargo was itself acquired by Norwest Corporation, originally a cooperative of regional banks from Minnesota and the North West United States. The merged business retained the more celebrated Wells Fargo brand and image. The group's network expanded still further in 2000 with the acquisition of First Security, another multi-state banking group based in Utah and various South Western states. 


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