3 Reasons to Steer Clear of Wells Fargo Stock

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Even with the echoes of its past problems still ringing, Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) stock is still beloved by Wall Street. And, despite the steep December pullback, the post-Christmas rise of WFC stock price has been impressive enough to rekindle hopes that WFC stock will have a fruitful 2019.

Before jumping on the bandwagon of WFC stock, though, investors may want to take a closer look at the company. Not everything is as it may seem when it comes to Wells Fargo stock. Namely, there are three major reasons why investors looking for a solid bank stock may want to consider Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) or JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) instead of WFC stock.

No Sense of Urgency

Wells Fargo’s debacle has been more than well-documented. More than that, though, the underpinnings of its gaffe, amazingly enough, have yet to be resolved.

The debacle in question is of course an account-opening scandal that rocked Wells Fargo and WFC stock price in September 2016. That’s when it was revealed that the bank’s employees, under pressure to meet sales quotas, had opened two million unauthorized deposit and credit-card accounts.

The fallout was tremendous and long-lasting. Indeed, it’s still haunting the company in one important way a year and a half later. Specifically, the Federal Reserve will not permit the bank to increase its balance sheet until it’s proven that it’s fixed the issues that enabled two million unauthorized accounts to be opened. As of last month, the bank hasn’t met that condition to the Fed’s satisfaction.

Even more shocking is how long it’s already been since WFC was supposed to have begun alleviating the problem. The Fed made the punitive decision in February of last year. Wells Fargo is months behind schedule, with no end to the story in sight.

Adding to the drama is Senator Elizabeth Warren’s insistence that CEO Tim Sloan, who still has the full support of the Board of Directors, be removed from his position.

Disruptive Changes

Wells Fargo’s brokerage and wealth management arm may only account for about 12% of the company’s total bottom line, but it’s an important piece of the company’s profit mix, if only because the unit’s results are relatively stable from one quarter to the next.

That stability, however, may now be in question.

Changes in the way that that banks’ investment advisors are compensated is nothing new. Employers always want more for less, and more effective advisors generally breeze through such changes while weaker ones tend to leave. Bank of America just went through such a controversial overhaul. Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) changed its payout structure in the middle of last year,too… and not for the first time.

So it comes as little surprise to learn that Wells Fargo has also updated its advisors’ compensation plan. It’s changing its payout structure for its traditional brokers in a way, however, that could effectively force some of them out, adding to the disruption already created by an exodus of advisors who want to work for a less-damaged company.

Ignoring the Optics

Finally, despite the lingering impact of 2016’s account-opening scandal, Wells Fargo continues to remain largely oblivious to the current political and social environment.

Case in point: Even though President Trump has frequently publicly blasted companies for moving U.S. jobs overseas, in December Wells Fargo elected to reduce its domestic headcount by 26,000 and replace an undisclosed number of those employees with overseas workers.

In a similar vein, last month the bank refused to participate in a meeting with a union-backed, bank-employee rights group because members of the group who do not work for WFC would be in attendance.

The fact that this same group was heavily involved in bringing 2016’s gaffe to light sends a concerning message about the bank’s true intent.

The Bottom Line on WFC Stock

The presence of any one of these headwinds might not be troublesome. With WFC making so many ill-advised decisions, however, it’s tough to feel good about WFC stock.

That’s not to suggest that Wells Fargo stock won’t or can’t continue to recover in 2019. A rising tide lifts all boats, and the banking tide is definitely rising. This rising tide isn’t likely to lift all boats equally, though. Rivals like B of A or JPMorgan simply look like better bets until Wells Fargo answers the wake-up call that it’s been ignoring so far.

As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow him on Twitter, at @jbrumley.

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