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Context of 'June 9, 2009: For Now, Wells Fargo Won’t Repay $25 Billion TARP Funds'

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Wells Fargo, the second largest home lender in the US, posts a surprising record first-quarter profit, outperforming the most hopeful estimates on Wall Street. The bank’s earnings are the most since July 16, 2007, with shares down 33 percent in 2009. The report also states that Wachovia Corporation, acquired by Wells Fargo in October 2008, is exceeding expectations. According to data compiled by Bloomberg, Wachovia’s $101.9 billion in losses and writedowns are the most for any US lender, and its adjustable-rate home loans are considered among the industry’s riskiest. Yet, in its preliminary report, Wells Fargo states that acquiring Wachovia “has proven to be everything we thought it would be.” Official first-quarter results will be released the third week in April.
Other Banks Also Gain; Profits Expected - The preliminary earnings report rallies the stock market, and the S&P 500 caps a fifth consecutive weekly gain and adds 3.8 percent to a two-month high of 856.56, the longest stretch since the bear market began in October 2007. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rises 246.27, to 8,083.38. The largest US lender, Bank of America, gains 35 percent today; JPMorgan 19 percent, and Citigroup 13 percent. The 24-company KBW Bank Index surges 20 percent, its biggest one-day gain since May 1992. Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Chris Kotowski says of these firms, “Barring an act of God, they had better report some number that is in the black or potentially risk being involved in some of the most intense securities litigation on record.”
Accounting Rules May Have Helped Profit Statements - Christopher Whalen, a managing director of Risk Analytics, says that the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s relaxation of accounting rules may have helped banks—including Wells Fargo—report a profit. “Most analysts are expecting loss rates to be much, much higher than we have seen in the last 20 to 30 years, even longer,” he says. “Given that, provisions of the large banks are not high enough.”
Wells Fargo 'Underperforming?' - While Wells Fargo Chief Financial Officer Howard Atkins says that increasing the bank’s provision for loan losses to $23 billion is adequate compared with other large US banks, FBR Capital Markets analyst Paul Miller wrote in a report that the bank’s addition of a $4.6 billion provision was below his estimate of $6.25 billion. “We remain cautious based on what we don’t know.” Miller rates Wells Fargo shares “underperform” and said that the preliminary report did not contain the percentage of non-performing loans and trends in Wachovia’s option-adjustable rate mortgate portfolio, a percentage Miller deems important. Atkins says that Wells Fargo benefited from strong trading results at Wachovia’s capital markets business, which the bank continues to shrink. He said that the improvement will not reverse those plans. Approximately 75 percent of Wells Fargo’s mortgage applications are refinance. President Obama said that homeowner interest rates, at less than five percent, are the lowest since 1971, and that it was “money in their pocket” for homeowners. Wells Fargo’s biggest shareholder is Berkshire Hathaway Inc., an acquisitions and investments firm owned by Warren Buffett. [Bloomberg, 4/9/2009]

Entity Tags: Dow Jones Industrial Average, Christopher Whalen, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Bank of America, Wachovia Bank, N.A., Standard & Poor’s, Warren Buffett, Paul Miller, Howard Atkins, JP Morgan Chase, Chris Kotowski, Risk Analytics, New York Stock Exchange, Oppenheimer & Co.

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

Silverton Bank, a commercial bank that provided major wholesale banking services to client banks, is shuttered by regulators, making it the 30th US bank to fail in 2009. Based in Atlanta, it is the sixth Georgia bank to close this year and is taken over by the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which appoints the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) as receiver. Silverton was a correspondent bank that did not take public deposits or make consumer loans, but provided credit card operations, investments, and loan purchases to client banks. At its closure, the bank’s total assets are approximately $4.1 million and total deposits are about $3.3 billion. The FDIC says it has created Silverton Bridge Bank N.A. to manage bank business and minimize disruption to customers over the next 60 days; the FDIC estimates it will cost the Deposit Insurance Fund $1.3 billion.
Consequences of Collapse - The failure’s impact is expected to ripple through the banking industry and industry experts believe it will have catastrophic consequences for banks across the Sun Belt, potentially impacting hundreds of bank balance sheets. Founded in the mid-1980s, Silverton provided credit and deposit services for other banks, acting as a middleman for fiduciary services for 1,500 small US banks in 44 states. Services included federal funds repayments, a check clearinghouse, and loans to bank holding companies, directors, and executives. Local bank attorneys describe Silverton as a mini-Federal Reserve for community banks.
Other Banks Also Closing - As the deepening recession makes it more difficult for consumers and businesses to pay their loans, local banks have closed in droves. So far, on nearly every Friday this year, there has been at least one bank failure. During the third week in April, while banks prepared for the Obama administration’s ‘stress tests,’ four regional banks closed. Despite federal commitment of amounts in the trillions to increase liquidity as well as jumpstart the economy, the speed of bank failures has accelerated. In 2008, a total of 25 banks failed, yet, in the first four months of 2009, 30 banks have failed. Prior to Silverton’s closure, American Southern Bank in Kennesaw, Georgia, was the last FDIC-insured bank to fail; it was shut down on April 24. [Marketwatch, 5/1/2009; CNN, 5/1/2009; Associated Press, 5/1/2009]

Entity Tags: Silverton Bank, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

Wells Fargo & Co. confirms that it is not one of the 10 megabanks that will repay TARP capital and also says it is not hastening to repay the money. There had been rumors, perhaps because it had objected to the TARP funding in 2008, that Wells was prepared to write a check to repay its $25-billion TARP infusion—at any given moment—to escape government restrictions on executive pay, dividends, etc., but these rumors are now found to be false. The San Francisco-based bank bought Wachovia Corporation last year when it was on the verge of collapse and in its statement Wells cites its need to focus on assimilating loss-ridden Wachovia. “We want to pay back the government’s investment on behalf of the US taxpayer at the earliest practical date, but we haven’t applied yet to our regulators to repay the investment,” the statement says. From the beginning, Wells Chairman Richard Kovacevich stoked anti-TARP sentiment and opposed his bank’s inclusion in the program. Mr. Kovacevich said then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson “forced” the money on the bank because Mr. Paulson believed that all of the nation’s largest banks should have been TARP participants so that none appeared to be singled out for federal involvement. Mr. Kovacevich also attacked the government’s “stress test” of the 19 major banks to determine whether they had enough capital to survive a worse-than-expected economy over the next two years. “We do stress tests all the time on all of our portfolios,” Kovacevich said, according to Bloomberg News. “We share those stress tests with our regulators. It is absolutely asinine that somebody would announce we’re going to do stress tests for banks and we’ll give you the answer in 12 weeks.” On May 7, the Federal Reserve judged Wells and nine other major banks short of capital and Wells was ordered to raise $13.7 billion in additional capital by November 2009. The following day, Wells quickly raised $8.6 billion in a stock sale. Wells says it will “work closely with our regulators to determine the appropriate time to repay the TARP funds while maintaining strong capital levels.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/9/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Treasury, Richard Kovacevich, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., US Federal Reserve, Wachovia Bank, N.A.

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

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