Wells Fargo & Co. reported a 19 percent increase in its third-quarter income Wednesday as losses from bad loans declined, a hopeful sign that American businesses and consumers are becoming more financially stable.
The San Francisco-based bank earned $3.15 billion, or 60 cents per share, in the three months ending in September, beating analysts' expectations by 5 cents per share. The bank earned $2.64 billion, or 56 cents per share, in the same period a year earlier.
Fewer of Wells Fargo's customers defaulted on loans, and fewer were late in payments on their mortgage and credit cards. It was a common theme with other large U.S. banks that have reported results so far this quarter: JPMorgan Chase &Co., Bank of America Corp., and Citigroup Inc. The banks' results suggested that the suffering has started to subside for Americans struggling through the longest recession since the 1930s.
Wells Fargo's losses from bad loans were $4.1 billion in the third quarter, down 20 percent from the third quarter of 2009. The number of bad loans fell in almost all of Wells Fargo's business lines: down 26 percent in commercial loans, down 39 percent in commercial real estate, and down 13 percent in credit cards.
However, Wells Fargo is still setting aside large amounts of funds to cover future losses from loans, although less than a year ago. Wells Fargo set aside $3.45 billion for such losses in the third quarter, down from $6.11 billion last year.
In another positive sign, Wells said it saw a 17 percent increase in new loans to businesses and consumers as mortgage applications reached the second-highest level in the bank's history.
Jason Goldberg, a banking analyst at Barclays Capital, also noted that the bank's pipeline for new mortgage loans was $101 billion at the end of the quarter, up $33 billion and suggesting that mortgage lending activity would be strong in the fourth quarter.
On a less encouraging note, the total amount of loans on Wells Fargo's books fell to $753.7 billion at the end of September from $766.3 billion in the previous quarter. That means overall demand for borrowing hasn't picked up yet, and banks have not yet fully recovered.
Wells Fargo, one of the nation's largest mortgage lenders, has also come under scrutiny as part of the foreclosure mess that has embroiled the banking industry. Although it has not halted foreclosures, rivals Bank of America Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. have stopped many of their foreclosure proceedings because of evidence that thousands of documents were improperly handled.
CEO John Stumpf has resisted calls to join other banks in suspending foreclosures, and reaffirmed that stance in a conference call with analysts to discuss the company's earnings.
"We are confident that our practices, procedures and documentation for both foreclosures and mortgage securitizations are sound and accurate," Stumpf said.
Wells posted revenues of $20.87 billion, compared with $22.47 billion in the third quarter of last year.
Wells Fargo shares closed up $1.05, or 4.3 percent, at $25.60.