Wells Fargo & Co. on Tuesday reported a plunge in first-quarter profit as the U.S. bank set aside nearly $4 billion to cover potential losses on loans to consumers and small businesses hurting due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The U.S. government has poured trillions of dollars into financial markets and launched stimulus programs to support the economy stalled by the lockdowns put in place to contain the pandemic.
But the money has not reached people’s hands yet, leading Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) and other banks to offer forbearance for home, auto and credit-card borrowers who meet certain criteria.
With or without those programs, the unpaid bills are stacking up. Under a new accounting rule, banks must predict losses over the life of a loan and reserve that cash now, which led Wells Fargo to set aside some $3.83 billion in credit loss provisions, up from $845 million a year earlier.
“Our results were impacted by a $3.1 billion reserve build, which reflected the expected impact these unprecedented times could have on our customers,” Chief Financial Officer John Shrewsberry said in a statement.
Starting in early March, the bank has helped more than 1.3 million consumer and small business customers by deferring and waiving fees, while commercial clients have utilized over $80 billion of their loan commitments in the month, Chief Executive Officer Charlie Scharf said in a statement.
Quarterly profit at Wells Fargo, which does not have the large investment banking and trading operations like its other big bank peers, plummeted to $42 million, or 1 penny per share, from $5.51 billion, or $1.20 per share, a year earlier.
Analysts had expected a profit of 33 cents per share, on average, according to Refinitiv data. It was not immediately clear whether the estimates were comparable.
The fourth-largest U.S. lender also reported an impairment of securities of $950 million due to the economic and market conditions.
Earlier on Tuesday, JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) reported a 69% slump in first-quarter profit as the coronavirus pandemic forced the largest U.S. bank to boost reserves.
The surge in loan demand from cash-strapped companies looking to weather the coronavirus crisis has put pressure on Wells Fargo’s balance sheet, which has been restricted by regulators following the 2016 sales practices scandal.
At the end of the quarter, the bank’s total assets were $1.98 trillion, above the level allowed by the Federal Reserve’s consent order, but the bank is managing its average asset level so that it remains in compliance.
Wells Fargo’s revenue tumbled 18% to $17.7 billion in the quarter ended March 31, as the U.S. banking sector grapples with what is expected to be the worst recession in generations.
The bank’s mortgage banking income was $379 million, down from $783 million in fourth quarter of 2019.
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