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Wells Fargo's Rate Strategy Pays Off

By contrast, Bank of America's MSR results were ho-hum. Its overall MSR portfolio grew $1.9 billion over the final quarter to become $19.5 billion at year-end. The bank lost $213 million in fair-value adjustments while fees were essentially flat. Though derivatives changes aren't broken out, former CFO Joe Price told conference-call listeners that positive hedging activity offset slightly lower production levels.

JPMorgan Chase didn't fare quite as well. Its MSR portfolio grew 14% over the quarter to $15.5 billion, but the bank lost $657 million in fair-value adjustments. Derivatives alone declined by $1.65 billion, compared with a $1.5 billion gain the previous quarter. Overall servicing revenue was essentially flat at $1.2 billion.

CFO Michael Cavanaugh acknowledged the lackluster results, but said while MSR risk management "had been a big positive in some of the prior quarters," it "normally is more like what it is this quarter."

Citigroup didn't provide much commentary or detail for its mortgage-servicing results. The bank simply said its MSR balance grew 5% over the quarter to $6.5 billion.

If fourth-quarter results and interest-rate expectations are any indication, it appears competitors may need to start mimicking Wells Fargo's tactics more closely. The Fed's golden era of free money and purchasing assistance has existed for over a year, and may be around for another quarter or two, but it won't last forever. The market reaction is always one step ahead -- as are the most adept risk managers.

Atkins indicated that Wells Fargo management has its sights set ahead on where the next earnings boom will be. He said that at times "less conducive to strong mortgage earnings" -- as the economy begins to expand, and interest rates rise -- Wells will rely on other businesses to drive results.

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