When we reported Wells Fargo’s Q1 earnings back in April, we drew readers’ attention to one specific line of business, the one we dubbed the bank’s “bread and butter“, namely mortgage lending, and which as we then reported was “the biggest alarm” because “as a result of rising rates, Wells’ residential mortgage applications and pipelines both tumbled, sliding just shy of the post-crisis lows recorded in late 2013.
Then, a quarter ago a glimmer of hope emerged for the America’s largest traditional mortgage lender (which has since lost the top spot to alternative mortgage originators), as both mortgage applications and the pipeline posted a surprising, if welcome to bulls, rebound.
However, it was not meant to last, because buried deep in its presentation accompanying otherwise unremarkable Q3 results (modest EPS and revenue beats), Wells just reported that its ‘bread and butter’ is once again missing, and in Q3 2018 the amount in the all-important Wells Fargo Mortgage Application pipeline shrank again, dropping to $22 billion, the lowest level since the financial crisis.
Yet while the mortgage pipeline has not been worse in a decade despite the so-called recovery, at least it has bottomed. What was more troubling is that it was Wells’ actual mortgage applications, a forward-looking indicator on the state of the broader housing market and how it is impacted by rising rates, that was even more dire, slumping from $67BN in Q2 to $57BN in Q3, down 22% Y/Y and the the lowest since the financial crisis (incidentally, a topic we covered recently in “Mortgage Refis Tumble To Lowest Since The Financial Crisis, Leaving Banks Scrambling“).
Meanwhile, Wells’ mortgage originations number, which usually trails the pipeline by 3-4 quarters, was nearly as bad, dropping $4BN sequentially from $50 billion to just $46 billion. And since this number lags the mortgage applications, we expect it to continue posting fresh post-crisis lows in the coming quarter especially if rates continue to rise.
That said, it wasn’t all bad news for Wells, whose Net Interest Margin managed to post a modest increase for the second consecutive quarter, rising to $12.572 billion. This is what Wells said: “NIM of 2.94% was up 1 bp LQ driven by a reduction in the proportion of lower yielding assets, and a modest benefit from hedge ineffectiveness accounting.” On the other hand, if one reads the fine print, one finds that the number was higher by $80 million thanks to “one additional day in the quarter” (and $54 million from hedge ineffectiveness accounting), in other words, Wells’ NIM posted another decline in the quarter.
There was another problem facing Buffett’s favorite bank: while true NIM failed to increase, deposits costs are rising fast, and in Q3, the bank was charged an average deposit cost of 0.47% on $907MM in interest-bearing deposits, nearly double what its deposit costs were a year ago.
Just as concerning was the ongoing slide in the scandal-plagued bank’s deposits, which declined 3% or $40.1BN in Q3 Y/Y (down $2.3BN Q/Q) to $1.27 trillion. This was driven by consumer and small business banking deposits of $740.6 billion, down $13.7 billion, or 2%.
But even more concerning was the ongoing shrinkage in the company’s balance sheet, as average loans declined from $944.3BN to $939.5BN, the lowest in years, and down $12.8 billion YoY driven by “driven by lower commercial real
estate loans reflecting continued credit discipline” while period-end loans slipped by $9.6BN to $942.3BN, as a result of “declines in auto loans, legacy consumer real estate portfolios including Pick-a-Pay and junior lien mortgages, as well as lower commercial real estate loans.” This is a problem as most other banks are growing their loan book, Wells Fargo’s keeps on shrinking.
And finally, there was the chart showing the bank’s overall consumer loan trends: these reveal that the troubling broad decline in credit demand continues, as consumer loans were down a total of $11.3BN Y/Y across most product groups.
What these numbers reveal, is that the average US consumer can barely afford to take out a new mortgage at a time when rates continued to rise – if not that much higher from recent all time lows. It also means that if the Fed is truly intent in engineering a parallel shift in the curve of 2-3%, the US can kiss its domestic housing market goodbye.
Source: Wells Fargo Earnings Supplement
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