Wells Fargo leads bank earnings, recovery

A bus passes by a Wells Fargo Bank branch office on July 12, 2012 in San Francisco, California.

Wall Street will be watching carefully today as the first of the nation's biggest banks reports year-end financial results. Wells Fargo, the country's second-largest bank by deposits, is due to post its fourth-quarter profits before this morning's opening bell.

It's a "can you top this" kind of earnings report for the bank, which has enjoyed 11 straight quarters of profit growth.

"It's kind of like the Michael Jordan-era Bulls," says Matt Koppenheffer, who watches banking for the Motley Fool website. Koppenheffer says investors already trade Wells' stock at a premium among banks.

"They expect things to be good, they've priced the stock that way, and so there's a pretty high bar for the company to jump over," he says.

The bank's dominance in the mortgage market has been a mixed blessing. Morningstar analyst Jim Sinegal says Wells Fargo has been doing well helping homeowners lower their house payments but, he points out, that business only goes so far.

"Wells and the rest of the banks have really been benefiting from high refinance volumes" with interest rates running at record lows, Sinegal explains.

"Home sales are going to need to pick up in order for Wells, and for really the rest of the economy, to improve," Sinegal adds. While the overall economy remains sluggish, Sinegal says the banking recovery looks to be much further along.

"They've built so much capital since the crisis, I think for the most part, they're out of the woods," he says.

Wall Street seems to think so. Financial shares in general are on the rise so far this year.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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