Wells Fargo 4Q profit rose 4%, tops Street estimates

A Wells Fargo office is shown, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021 in New York. Wells Fargo & Co. says its profit rose 4% to $2.99 billion in the fourth quarter of 2020. The bank, based in San Francisco, said Friday that it had earnings of 64 cents per share, compared with earnings of 60 cents a year earlier. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

SILVER SPRING, Md. — Wells Fargo had its best quarter of 2020 as its profit rose 4% in the fourth quarter of a year defined by the coronavirus outbreak.

The bank, based in San Francisco, said Friday that its earnings rose to $3 billion, or 64 cents per share, compared with earnings of $2.87 billion, or 60 cents a share, a year earlier.

The results surpassed Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of 12 analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of 59 cents per share.

The biggest U.S. mortgage lender posted revenue of $17.93 billion in the period, just short of projections of $18.1 billion.

Net interest income fell 17%, the company said, mostly due to falling interest rates. However, economists are forecasting modest mortgage rate rises this year. Long-term bond yields, which can influence interest rates on mortgages and other consumer loans, have climbed recently amid expectations of higher U.S. government spending on pandemic relief and an economic recovery as more people get vaccinated for COVID-19.

On Thursday night, President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion coronavirus plan that would speed up vaccines and deal financial help to those struggling with the pandemic’s prolonged economic fallout. Biden proposed $1,400 checks for most Americans and extending a temporary boost in unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through September.

Like it has for most businesses, it’s been a tumultuous year for Wells Fargo, which set aside $3.83 billion in the first quarter to cover potentially bad loans as the economy ground to halt because of the coronavirus outbreak. Then the lender lost $2.4 billion in the second quarter, its first quarterly loss since the real estate crash of 2008. Wells bounced back somewhat last quarter with $2 billion in profit.

As if the challenges presented by the virus pandemic weren’t enough, Wells has been in hot water with regulators for years. Wells has been operating under strict federal guidelines due to a series of scandals, limiting its ability to grow.

Wells Fargo shares have declined almost 33% in the last 12 months.