Wells Fargo & Co. has come through the recession as the dominant bank in Philadelphia (successor to PNB, First PA, Fidelity, Girard, Butcher & Singer, etc.) and much of the South and West (10% of US bank deposits torugh 9,000 branches, 30% of home loans, claims to be #1 lender to "middle sized companies" and small businesses, and the second-largest stockbroker, after Bank of America/Merrill Lynch).
Unlike New York's Citi and JPMorgan Chase, and even BofA, Wells has never tried too hard to make nice with professional bank critics, liberal Democrats in Congress, and other bank-bashers. Unlike the New York banks, it's mostly avoided investment banking (except mortgage trading, where Wells is big).
Is this working? The bank expects to make $18 billion in profits this year. Boss John G. Stumpf spoke Tuesday at Goldman Sachs' yearly Financial Services conference to brag a little and warn a little. Highlights:
BAD MOOD: "We saw more pessimism and more negative comments" in a Wells Fargo-sponsored Gallup poll of small business owners just after November's election "than we've seen in a number of years." But Wells Fargo still plans to grow, he quickly added.
FISCAL CLIFF: "I think that's due in part to the fact that we're having these disagreements in Washington...It does have an impact." But cutting a tax-spending deal in Washington won't mean "the dam will open and all this spending will automatically happen... We need a growth agenda for this country. We need something more than just avoiding the cliff. We need Wasnignton's public policy to get on the same page with the private sector."
HOW BIG: "People always ask me, how big do you want to be?'... I could care less... as long as we serve every creditworthy customer..."
HALF FULL: "There's only so many refinances to be done... Housing is getting better... What we've not yet seen is a really strong move-up market."
COMPETITION: In auto loans, some markets are so competivie "we can't get a return." Business loan rates keep coming down because banks are giving them away in hopes of profiting from related service fees. So loan rates are falling, terms are getting loose, and this could end badly for some lenders: "We've seen this movie before."