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An Interview with the Man in Charge of Warren Buffett’s Favorite Bank

December 07, 2012 | About:
CanadianValue

CanadianValue

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As of the last Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A)(BRK.B) year-end Warren Buffett had over $11 billion invested in Wells Fargo (WFC). That represented 14% of Berkshire’s $76 billion equity portfolio.

And Buffett has continued to steadily buy shares of Wells Fargo through 2012. It seems he can’t get enough of a good thing.

The question I have for myself is why am I not following Buffett and buying Wells Fargo myself? I mean, Buffett has owned the company since the savings and loan crisis in the early '90s. When you consider Buffett’s appetite for data and reading reports, I think it is quite likely that after over thirty years Buffett knows Wells Fargo better than I know what goes on in my own bank account.

With Buffett’s 30 years of research, his interest in the stock at current prices (valuation is still right) it seems silly not to give real consideration to trusting Buffett and following him into Wells Fargo.

With that in mind I came across a fairly comprehensive article with the CEO of Buffett’s favorite bank:

John Stumpf is a survivor.

He’s a CEO who kept his job as peers fell after the 2008 financial crisis, a strategist who expanded his company while others shrank theirs, a personable banker at a time of great anger toward his industry.

Stumpf is the boss of Wells Fargo, the nation’s fourth-largest bank by assets — and one of the few that emerged from the financial crisis with a reputation for responsible banking.

The bank likes to say its vanilla business model of making loans and taking deposits has kept it above the fray while exotic derivatives and other risky practices have bludgeoned rivals. Today, Wells controls a third of the U.S. mortgage market, giving it by far the biggest share of any bank.

The mortgage strategy has its own problems, though, including lawsuits over questionable lending. In October, for example, the Justice Department sued Wells, accusing it of misrepresenting the quality of thousands of mortgage loans that the Federal Housing Administration insured and that later defaulted.

San Francisco-based Wells was one of the largest banks in the country but relatively unknown outside the Western U.S. before 2008, when it scooped up teetering Wachovia in the depths of the financial crisis.

The bank has turned a profit every quarter since 2009, when the purchase was complete. Earnings have expanded while revenue has stayed steady.

Like other big banks, Wells Fargo’s stock has had an impressive year, gaining about 20 percent. But unlike the others, it’s close to its pre-crisis heights. The stock was around $35 when Stumpf took over in the summer of 2007. At $33 on Thursday morning, it was about 7 percent off that price.

Most of the other megabanks are trading at small fractions of where they were in that period. Wells Fargo is also the only one trading above its book value, essentially the underlying value of all its parts.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Stumpf, 59, talked about why he’s fighting the government’s lawsuit, why he’s less than enthusiastic on the economy and when it’s OK to ditch the suit and tie.

Questions and answers have been condensed and edited for clarity and length.

— What’s your prediction for the economy? Could we move into a reasonably strong economy in the next couple of years just naturally, because we’ve been in a downturn for so long?

I don’t know that I subscribe to that. It takes more planning and more leadership. We’ve got $16 trillion of federal debt, we have deficits as far as the eye can see, 10,000 people retire every day in this country and are getting (extremely low interest rates) on their savings. Left to its own, it will look very much like what it’s looked like so far.

— So what do we do?

There’s still too much uncertainty — tax policy, health care, entitlements, a whole bunch of other things. I would like to see the public sector and private sector get on the same page. Take something like housing. We have states that are passing new laws around housing that sometimes are in conflict with the national standards. What will happen to the mortgage interest deduction? We don’t know these things. And when it’s uncertain, the private sector feels it in a big way. We just published our quarterly Gallup/Wells Fargo small business survey, and we saw more pessimism than we’ve seen (in years), because what happens in Washington affects Main Street.

Continue reading.

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CanadianValue
http://valueinvestorcanada.blogspot.com/

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