SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF / CNN) — Wells Fargo’s lending and deposits continue to shrink but the crisis-stricken bank managed to grow its bottom line during the first quarter.
Based in San Francisco, America’s fourth-largest bank reported on Friday a 16% jump in first-quarter profits thanks to lower expenses. That exceeded Wall Street’s expectations. Wells Fargo’s revenue also fell less than feared.
It’s the bank’s first earnings report since Tim Sloan stepped down suddenly as CEO late last month. Sloan, a three-decade veteran of Wells Fargo, struggled to move the bank past two-and-a-half years of scandals that have hurt its reputation and its bottom line.
Even as other big banks grow deposits, Wells Fargo reported a 3% decline in total average deposits during the first quarter to $1.3 trillion. The bank blamed lower wholesale banking and a decrease in wealth and investment management deposits.
In a positive sign, however, Wells Fargo’s retail banking deposits grew.
Wells Fargo’s total average loans stood at $950.1 billion, down very slightly from a year ago. The bank reported quarter-over-quarter declines in auto, credit card and commercial loans.
Shares of Wells Fargo inched higher in premarket trading on Friday as investors breathed a sigh of relief the results weren’t worse. JPMorgan shares rose 3% in premarket trading.
Wells Fargo was able to grow profit by slashing costs. Noninterest expenses declined 7% during the first quarter
Wells Fargo’s results stand in sharp contrast with larger peer JPMorgan Chase, which revealed record profit and revenue on Friday. While Wells Fargo’s deposits slipped, JPMorgan reported a 3% increase in average deposits and 4% growth in core lending.
Unlike JPMorgan, Wells Fargo is grappling with unprecedented sanctions from the Federal Reserve that prevent the bank from growing. Citing “widespread consumer abuses,” the Fed imposed an asset cap on Wells Fargo in early 2018. The bank has so far failed to convince regulators to lift the tough penalties.
Wells Fargo blamed a decline in wholesale banking deposits on actions it took during the first half of 2018 to “manage to the asset cap.” The bank said wealth and investment management deposits were hurt by customers shifting cash to higher returning alternatives.
The legal troubles have taken a toll on Wells Fargo’s stock, which has flatlined since the fake-accounts scandal erupted in September 2016. Rivals Bank of America and Citigroup have seen their shares spike.
Wells Fargo continues to reward disappointed shareholders with hefty buybacks. The bank repurchased $3.9 billion during the first quarter, up 86% from the year before. Including dividends, Wells Fargo said it returned $6 billion to shareholders in the first quarter.
Wells Fargo will probably face questions from analysts later on Friday about its search for a successor for Sloan. Warren Buffett, Wells Fargo’s leading shareholder, has urged the board of directors not to hire someone from Wall Street.
Allen Parker, Wells Fargo’s interim CEO, said he’s focused on continuing the bank’s “transformation.”
“We have more work ahead of us, and our strong leadership team is dedicated to making our company the most customer-focused, efficient, and innovative Wells Fargo ever,” Parker, the former general counsel, said in a statement.
Wells Fargo has also unloaded several businesses in recent months. Earlier this week, Wells Fargo announced a $1.2 billion deal to sell its institutional retirement and trust business to Principal Financial.
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