Banking & Finance

Wells Fargo Enters the Penalty Box

Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) is supposed to be the best run and most insulated bank from many of the current industry woes. The bank is supposed to have a somewhat defensive model without much financial trading exposure. It is also the least pressured when it comes to bank regulators and how the bank is allowed to return capital to shareholders. So, how exactly will investors and bank clients alike treat Wells Fargo after the major fine and settlement that took place over unauthorized account openings?

According to the late-week reports, thousands of Wells Fargo employees engaged in the illegal practice of opening up additional accounts for existing bank clients. Wells Fargo is paying some $185 million in the settlement. Apparently, some 5,300 employees have been terminated over the practice.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) imposed a $100 million fine on Wells Fargo over its practices on unauthorized account openings, the largest penalty in the agency’s history. One aim is to send a message to the industry to discourage similar account-opening activities at other financial institutions.

What matters is that the CFPB and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Los Angeles City Attorney were in the settlement.

Not many outside views have been made yet on the matter. Dick Bove of Rafferty Capital issued a very not-so prestigious Sell rating on the heels of the news. His take is that Wells Fargo has not increased its provisions like it should and that its real earnings have not really increased for years. Keefe Bruyette & Woods noted that Wells Fargo just reinforced a serious negative for a company that really needed a positive catalyst to drive shares higher. A contributor to Forbes has asked if Wells Fargo is rotten to the core, and has then called for management to go.

Remember that Warren Buffett is a solid shareholder here, likely right at the 10% threshold soon. Buffett already had sought regulatory approval to own more than 10% of Wells Fargo in a passive stake.

Also keep in mind that Wells Fargo’s market cap is almost $250 billion. The bank also counts a whopping $1.89 trillion in total assets, with net tangible assets after backing out all liabilities at almost $175 billion.

Wells Fargo shares were down 2.3% at $48.72 on Friday. Its consensus analyst price target is $53.00, and its 52-week range is $44.50 to $56.34.

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