Wells Fargo reports $2.4 billion loss for the quarter, slashes dividend to 10 cents

Charles Scharf

Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Wells Fargo on Tuesday posted its first quarterly loss since the financial crisis as the bank set aside $8.4 billion in loan loss reserves tied to the coronavirus pandemic.

The bank had a net loss of $2.4 billion in the second quarter, or a loss of $0.66 a share, worse than the 20 cents a share loss expected by analysts surveyed by Refinitiv. Revenue of $17.8 billion was also weaker than analysts’ $18.4 billion estimate. 

Shares of the San Francisco-based bank fell 4.1% in premarket trading. 

Wells Fargo, the embattled banking giant, was widely expected to post a loss as it had telegraphed its need to set aside billions of dollars for soured loans tied to the pandemic. The company is laboring under a dozen regulatory consent orders tied to its 2016 fake accounts scandal, including one from the Federal Reserve that caps its asset growth. These have made running the bank during the coronavirus crisis harder, and CEO Charlie Scharf strongly hinted last month that he would have to cut expenses and jobs this year.

The bank’s bleak outlook for profits is one reason it was forced by regulators to cut its dividend from its previous level of 51 cents a share.

But on Tuesday the bank announced a new quarterly payout of 10 cents a share, a deeper-than-expected reduction to its dividend that may indicate the bank’s pessimism about the coming year. 

Wells Fargo was the only bank among the six biggest U.S. lenders to be forced to cut its dividend after the annual Federal Reserve stress test; all the others are maintaining their quarterly payouts.

The bank is also hamstrung by its structure: Unlike JPMorgan Chase or Citigroup, Wells Fargo lacks a sizable Wall Street trading division, and that business has been on fire this year amid surging volatility and unprecedented Fed support. Record trading results helped JPMorgan beat expectations for the quarter. 

In part because of the Fed restriction, Wells Fargo has also pulled back from swaths of the mortgage and auto market, particularly in riskier products like jumbo home loans.

While bank stocks have rebounded from their March lows, they have underperformed the broader indices, which have been buoyed by the roaring technology sector.

One factor keeping bank stocks down: Low interest rates have pressured net interest margin, a key measure of profitability in the banking sector. The industry’s loan books have also begun to shrink, driven in part by lower credit-card usage and the fear of rising defaults

Correction: The initial headline misstated the amount of the bank’s dividend cut. 

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