Wells Fargo trims expected hit from regulatory cap on assets

BOSTON (Reuters) - Wells Fargo & Co on Thursday said a cap on the bank’s growth imposed by regulators after sales practices scandals would hurt earnings less than it thought this year, and forecast 2019 expenses below Wall Street expectations.

FILE PHOTO: A Wells Fargo bank sign is pictured in downtown Los Angeles, California, U.S. August 10, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

Analysts were upbeat about the expense outlook, financial targets and lessened fallout from the regulatory restrictions, though Wells Fargo said that reflected slower loan and deposit growth. But some had hoped for more revenue details at the bank’s annual investor day.

“While we expect the market to view this financial outlook favorably, (portfolio managers) keep on telling us they need to see the negative headlines abate ... and revenue growth to return,” Barclays analyst Jason Goldberg wrote in a note.

Wells Fargo is under Federal Reserve orders to keep its assets below $1.95 trillion until governance and controls improve. Chief Executive Tim Sloan said the bank, now the fourth-largest U.S. lender by assets, is making plans to operate under that limit for the first part of 2019.

He acknowledged the bank previously had not executed so well on compliance and risk oversight, but pushed back on the idea that it has a lot more work to do and said some news headlines were getting “tiresome.”

“I think we’re through most of the historical review,” Sloan said during a question-and-answer period at the daylong meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, which was webcast.

The bank previously expected the asset cap to hit after-tax net income by up to $400 million, but lower deposit and loan growth gave it room under the limit and caused it to cut that figure to less than $100 million, Treasurer Neal Blinde said.

Well Fargo said net interest income, or the difference in what it pays for deposits and what it earns on loans, will be relatively flat in 2018 as lower earning assets and higher deposit costs offset higher interest rates.

The bank’s shares closed at $54.65 on Thursday, up 1.7 percent.

Wells Fargo Chief Financial Officer John Shrewsberry said the bank would not provide updated guidance on its efficiency ratio. Investors and analysts have watched for improvements in that key measure of costs per dollar of revenue since the sales scandal erupted in 2016.

Shrewsberry said under one scenario for 2020 it is possible the bank would have expenses of $50 billion to $51 billion, and revenue consistent with 2017 results, but cautioned that was not a formal projection.

Under questioning from analysts he declined to offer more specific revenue forecasts, citing the many variables at play.

Noninterest expenses for 2019 would total $52 billion to $53 billion excluding litigation and remediation items, the bank said, compared to analyst expectations of $53.2 billion according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Barclays analyst Goldberg noted that two profitability targets Wells Fargo gave on Thursday roughly met his expectations: a two-year return on equity of 12 percent to 15 percent and two-year return on average tangible common equity of 14 percent to 17 percent.

Perry Pelos, who leads Wells Fargo’s wholesale business, said it remains the primary bank of about 11 percent of U.S. middle-market companies. While the bank’s issues have prompted client questions, Pelos said, “by and large they have hung with us.”

Reporting by Ross Kerber; additional reporting by David Henry. Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Bernadette Baum