Wells Fargo profit falls 50% on higher reserves, costs

Wells Fargo Bank branch is seen in New YorkWells Fargo Bank branch is seen in New York City, U.S., March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

Jan 13 (Reuters) – Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N) on Friday reported a 50% decline in profit for the fourth quarter as the bank racked up more than $3 billion in costs related to a fake accounts scandal and boosted loan loss reserves for a potential economic slowdown.

The bank's shares were down 2.8% in premarket trade.

The fourth-largest U.S. lender reported a profit of $2.9 billion, or 67 cents per share, for the quarter ended Dec. 31, compared with $5.6 billion, or $1.40 per share a year earlier.

Provision for credit losses were $957 million in the quarter, compared with a $452 million release a year earlier.

Provision for credit losses in the quarter included a $397 million increase in the allowance for credit losses primarily reflecting loan growth, as well as a less favorable economic environment, the bank said.

Banks are building up rainy day funds as U.S. Federal Reserve policymakers decide on the future path of interest rates.

After aggressively raising interest rates in an attempt to bring soaring inflation to heel, Fed policymakers say they are encouraged by the recent slowing in jobs and wage growth that could temper inflation. read more

The outlook for big U.S. banks has been further clouded by the Russia-Ukraine conflict and fading stimulus measures. Higher borrowing costs have also softened demand for mortgages and car loans, crimping banks' revenues.

Meanwhile, a slump in dealmaking has weighed on banks' investment banking businesses, which had a blockbuster 2021.

Wells Fargo is still working to contain the fallout from a six-year-old scandal over its sales practices that led to hefty fines and an asset cap imposed by the Fed on the lender's ability to expand its balance sheet.

Overall, non-interest expenses rose to $16.2 billion from $13.2 billion a year earlier.

In the fourth quarter, the bank posted $3.3 billion in operating losses related to litigation, customer remediation and regulatory matters associated with the scandal over its sales practices.

Chief Executive Officer Charlie Scharf is working on fixing the bank's problems after it spent billions on lawsuits and regulatory fines.

As part of his turnaround plan, Scharf aims to cut costs, scale back Wells Fargo's huge mortgage business and expand its investment banking business.

Wells Fargo has struggled over the past few years to satisfy regulators that it has fixed its problems and repaid customers who were harmed by its aggressive sales practices.

The company's net-interest income rose 45% to $13.4 billion in the quarter.

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