Wells Fargo Is Long on the American Dream


Have you heard what the CEO of Warren Buffett's favorite bank is saying about the housing market? Its more than just words; it's where the bank is putting its money, too!

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf has been making the media rounds of late, with the housing market on his mind. Stumpf leaves no question about his viewpoint on the subject; Stumpf, and by extension Wells, think that U.S. housing is back.

Putting your money where your mouth is
"Housing for two-thirds of Americans is still the American Dream. I'm bullish on housing."

This quote puts Wells Fargo's view on housing in no uncertain terms. And Wells' financial statements back up that sentiment. Wells' biggest business is mortgage lending, contributing 26% of total non-interest income in the first quarter. That was the sixth consecutive quarter of mortgage production greater than $100 billion.

Stumpf estimates that the size of the U.S. mortgage market is about $10 trillion, or roughly the equivalent of all the nation's bank deposits combined. Stumpf contends that a market this huge can't exist without both a strong secondary market and some government involvement (probably some tweaked format to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). Without the secondary markets and government, banks simply don't have the funding to meet public demand at a reasonable price. Remember Econ 101: The same demand with less supply would lead to higher prices.

"Everyone who touches a mortgage should all be interested in making a good mortgage."

This quote strikes at the heart of the financial crisis. When originators, packagers, ratings agencies, and investors fail to understand -- or, worse yet, even consider -- the underlying credit quality of a loan, the entire system falls apart.

Wells is practicing what it preaches. The bank has $252 billion of first-lien mortgage loans on the books as of the first quarter, which is by far the overall highest concentration on its books. Even with such a large portfolio, delinquent loans -- those more than 30 days past due -- are just 4.9%, compared with 9% at Bank of America, 7.1% at JPMorgan Chase, and 5.9% at Citigroup.

Stumpf has recommended that the government should stop purchasing mortgages outright as it does today. He suggests that a move like that would increase accountability throughout the mortgage-origination process. As an alternative, Stumpf thinks it should offer guarantees on these mortgages. The result would be greater recourse for originators and packagers if the loan goes bad. In this scenario, instead of having the government take the loss, private investors would have incentive to police the system and still have the comfort of the full faith and credit of the U.S. government via a guarantee.

"I think it's about jobs, about confidence, about feeling good about where things are going."

At the macro level, Stumpf sees the housing market's recovery as a function of a healing jobs market. Because the purchase of a house is so expensive and is generally funded in part with borrowed money, it's logical that households with stable income (i.e,. a job) would be more likely to purchase.

The economics support Stumpf's view. The April jobs report was resoundingly positive, beating expectations by 25,000 jobs and also including robust upward revisions to the February and March reports.

Too often companies will publicly say one thing while doing something entirely different behind closed doors. This is not the case with Wells Fargo. Not only is it in the media talking about a housing recovery, but it's also putting dollars to work investing in one.

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The article Wells Fargo Is Long on the American Dream originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Jay Jenkins has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Wells Fargo and owns shares of Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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