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How Wells Fargo is doing so well

A Wells Fargo bank branch in San Francisco

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: I can sum up today's stock market rally for you in just two words: Wells and Fargo. The San Francisco-based bank said this morning that when it officially reports first-quarter earnings next week, it is going to be a doozy: $3 billion in profit.

The announcement came as the health of the nation's big banks -- Wells is number four on that list, by the way -- it remains the topic of much speculation. How bad are their bad assets? How much more bailing out out might it take to make them healthy? And for Wells Fargo, where the heck did they get all that money? Marketplace's Jeremy Hobson reports from New York.


JEREMY HOBSON: You can't talk about Wells Fargo without talking about Wachovia. Wells bought Wachovia late last year and picked up its extensive base of East Coast bank branches and consumer deposits. Celent Banking Analyst Bart Narter says all that consumer cash in low-interest accounts is coming in very handy.

BART NARTER: They've got a lot of deposits, a lot of those deposits are very low cost, and they can lend out those deposits and make a very nice interest spread.

Wells is lending out the money in part for new mortgages. Banking expert Nancy Bush at NAB Research says the first quarter results also include a flood of big business deals.
Deals that had idled in frozen credit markets in the fourth quarter. But, Bush says...

NANCY BUSH: The capital markets' riches that are getting pushed into the first quarter may not persist through the rest of the year, and I think it's unlikely that they'll persist into the rest of the year.

There's another thing Wells watchers say is helping right now. When Wells bought Wachovia, it marked down the toxic assets on Wachovia's balance sheet. And many of its own as well. So, as Celent's Bart Narter says...

NARTER: They've taken their medicine and now they're moving forward.

But it's not clear the rest of the nation's big banks are moving forward with them.
Matthew Warren manages the bank research team at Morningstar.

MATTHEW WARREN: Watch for Bank of America and Citigroup's earnings. Those are some of the bigger banks that have more troubles and trickier exposures. So if you want to make judgments about the broader system, I'd wait and see how that shakes out.

In fact, analysts say Wells Fargo has benefited from uncertainty about its competition, as more and more consumers opt for the safety of that old stagecoach.

In New York, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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