Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) is the highest return and arguably the best run very large bank in the U.S. It is the number one U.S. bank in many categories including retail deposits; middle market, small business and used car lending; equipment and inventory financing; railcar leasing; and commercial and residential mortgage servicing and originations. It is in fewer volatile business lines than other large banks. It leads the industry in the intensity of its customer relationships with over six products per customer. The number of primary checking accounts at Wells is currently growing at around 5%, an impressive growth rate for a financial institution of this size. Through deposit-driven asset growth and stock buybacks, Wells has done a good job of counteracting shrinking net interest margins over the past decade.
Wells has a long-tenured management team and its record of technological innovation positions it well to handle both challenges from “fintech” disruptors and customer demands for access through a multitude of distribution channels. Wells has a good record of capital allocation, having added to per-share value during the financial crisis by buying Wachovia, expanding its footprint from its already fast-growing Western base to the equally vibrant Southeast. At the time, Wachovia’s “pick-a-pay” mortgage portfolio concerned many investors, but that portfolio’s quality has turned out to be better than even Wells expected. Recently, Wells acquired a large piece of General Electric’s finance business, an acquisition we think will work out well. Continue Reading »