Wells Fargo may have posted a record profit recently, but it’s important to note that left to its own devices the bank would have gone out of business already and not be posting any profits at all. Indeed, it appears to be undercapitalized by tens of billions of dollars:
Wells Fargo & Co., the second- biggest U.S. home lender, may need $50 billion to pay back the federal government and cover loan losses as the economic slump deepens, according to KBW Inc.’s Frederick Cannon.
KBW expects $120 billion of “stress” losses at Wells Fargo, assuming the recession continues through the first quarter of 2010 and unemployment reaches 12 percent, Cannon wrote today in a report. The San Francisco-based bank may need to raise $25 billion on top of the $25 billion it owes the U.S. Treasury for the industry bailout plan, he wrote.
This is why nothing you near from the financial sector about how all’s well should be taken too seriously. It’s true that given very bank-friendly monetary policy it’s easy for banks to run an operating profit. But most of these large banks are zombies—insolvent. They’re only able to run an operating profit because they’re not going out of business and being liquidated. And the reason they’re not being liquidated is government guarantees. It’s as if I had a profitable business selling cookies, except I didn’t actually have any cookies to sell and was just putting government-provided cookies in boxes, then bragging about how profitable my company is and how the government should stop hassling me about paying myself a bonus.