Wells Fargo Mortgage Revenue Drops, Shares Fall

A Wells Fargo Bank Branch Ahead Of Earnings Figures
Craig Warga/Bloomberg via Getty Images

By Peter Rudegeair and Tanya Agrawal

Wells Fargo, the fourth-largest U.S. bank, reported a 39 percent drop in mortgage revenue for the second quarter as lending volume dropped, underscoring the urgency for the bank to find other sources of income growth.

The bank managed to boost earnings and meet analyst estimates through gains from investments in stocks and bonds among other areas. But that income could be difficult to repeat in coming quarters, analysts said.

Meanwhile, the pressure on Wells Fargo's mortgage business, one of its largest sources of revenue for years, is continuing and intense. The bank's shares fell 0.4 percent to $51.58.

Overall U.S. mortgage lending volumes have been falling for 15 months as rates have risen, cutting into demand to refinance home loans. This spring was also a weak home buying season compared with last year's, Chief Financial Officer John Shrewsberry told investors on a conference call.

"The purchase market is softer than we thought it would be," Shrewsberry said.

But Wells Fargo's mortgage volume declines were greater than the overall market in percentage terms, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's estimates. That may be because last year many smaller banks were selling their loans to Wells Fargo, which in turn would package them into bonds to sell to investors under government programs, which counted as Wells Fargo's volume.

%VIRTUAL-WSSCourseInline-928%Much of those banks are now selling directly to investors under government programs, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Stumpf said in an interview. The bank is the largest U.S. mortgage lender.

This is the first quarter since 2009 that Wells Fargo didn't report an increase in earnings a share from the preceding quarter, ending a 17-quarter streak.

The second-quarter results reflect how hard a job Stumpf has in trying to boost revenue from other businesses.

Even as unemployment falls in the United States and the economy shows signs of recovery, loan growth has been tepid: the bank's loans, excluding pre-crisis assets it is winding down, rose just 2 percent in the second quarter from the first quarter.

Wells Fargo (WFC) is the first of the major banks to post earnings, and rivals likely faced similar headwinds.

Overall, Wells Fargo earned $5.42 billion, or $1.01 a share, in line with estimates from Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. In the second quarter of 2013, the bank earned $5.27 billion, or 98 cents a share.

The rising U.S. stock market helped Wells Fargo in several ways. Its net gains from equity investments rose 121 percent to $449 million, while earnings from its wealth, brokerage and retirement business grew 25 percent to $544 million thanks in part to fees tied to higher market valuations.

Net gains from debt securities were $71 million compared with a loss of $54 million a year earlier.

Revenue slipped to $21.1 billion, from $21.4 billion in the second quarter of 2013, slightly beating expectations, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Wells Fargo made $47 billion of home loans, down from $112 billion a year earlier but up from $36 billion in the first quarter. Revenue from mortgage banking fell to $1.7 billion.

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