While one can argue that both JPM and Bank of America posted results that were ok, with some aspects doing better than expected offset by weakness elsewhere, even if moments ago JPM stock just hit an all time high, there was little to redeem the report from the scandal-ridden largest mortgage lender in America, Wells Fargo. Not only did the company miss revenues significantly, reported $21.6bn in Q4 top line, nearly $1 bn below the $22.4bn consensus, but it had to reach deep into its non-GAAP adjustment bag to convert the $0.96 EPS miss into a $1.03 EPS beat (net of “accounting effect”), but the details of its core business were, well, deplorable, which perhaps was to be expected following the recent drop in new credit card and bank account growth, following last year’s fake account scandal.
Incidentally, Wells Fargo reported its latest customer metrics alongside 4Q earnings, and in December the bank said that the retail public continued to shy away, as new checking accounts plunged 40%Y/Y while new credit card applications tumbled 43%. On the other hand, deposit balances debit card transactions continued growing which probably is not a good sign, if only for the Keynesians in the administration: it means that consumers are saving.
But back to Wells results, which revealed that in Q4, the bank’s ROE, one of Buffett’s favorite indicators, fell to 10.94%. which was the lowest quarterly level posted in years according to the WSJ. “While the return had been grinding lower for some time, largely due to the declining interest-rate environment, the fourth quarter also marked the first, full reporting period since the bank’s sales-tactics scandal erupted in September.”
More troubling however, was that in Q4, Wells overall profit fell to $5.27 billion, or 96 cents a share (excluding the various non-GAAP addbacks, down from $5.58 billion, or EPS of $1 in Q4 2015.
So back to Wells Fargo’s retail banking business. Here the bank reported that while credit cards outstanding rose 5% compared to $33.14 billion last quarter and jumped 8% from $34.04 billion in the year-earlier period, new accounts tumbled 52% to 319,000 from 667,000 last quarter and fell 47% from 597,355 in the year-earlier period, once again this is a reflection of the bank’s ongoing legal scandals.
But it was the bank’s bread and butter, mortgage lending, that was the biggest alarm because as a result of rising rates, Wells’ residential mortgage applications and pipelines both tumbled, and after hitting multi-year highs in the third quarter when mortgage rates were likewise hugging multi-year lows, in Q4 Wells’ mortgage applications plunged by $25bn from the prior quarter to $75bn, while the mortgage origination pipeline plunged by nearly half to just $30 billion, and just shy of all time lows recorded in late 2013 and 2014. Moynihan’s explanation was redundant: “the pipeline is weaker because of fewer refi loans.” This should not come as a surprise: just one month ago, Freddie Mac warned that as mortgage rates continue to surge, “expect mortgage activity to be significantly subdued in 2017.”
Wells Fargo did not even have to wait that long, and as shown in the chart below, the biggest US mortgage lender is already suffering.
Expect even greater declines in the coming quarters should rates continue to rise.