NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- During a financial crisis that tested the mettle of even the staunchest bank investors, Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B) remarked that he didn't think Wells Fargo (WFC) would ever disappoint him when push came to shove for banks.
Wells Fargo proved him right again on Tuesday with a better than expected quarterly report that highlighted some of the key Buffett banking dictates.
Not only does the San Francisco-based bank rank as Buffett's third largest holding, it's also a company where he has been increasing his stake in recent quarters, according to StockPickr's Warren Buffett portfolio.Historically viewed as the least sexy of the four big money-center banks, Wells Fargo increased net income by 20% year-over-year, an achievement that stood in stark contrast to the quarterly loss from Citigroup (C), which also reported on Tuesday. Wells Fargo's performance also bested that of JPMorgan Chase, and it's just one more sign of why it can pay to follow the Oracle of Omaha when it comes to investing strategy in the financial sector. It's not just the boring approach taken by Wells Fargo, but the fact that the bank is less reliant on rise and fall of its investment banking division. As any Buffett watcher knows, there is nothing that the Berkshire Hathaway CEO claims to despise more than investment banking fees and the suspender-clad cigar smokers who amass them. Indeed, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf said during the quarterly conference call that the bank didn't pay much attention where the bank ranked among its struggling brethren in this regard. In a comment that was right out of the Buffett "dismissive on investment banking" playbook, Stumpf told analysts, "I'm not driven by [investment banking] league tables" -- referring to the fee-generating rankings over which investment bankers beat their chests from quarter to quarter when they land the No. 1 spot. It likely would make Buffett happy to learn that this dismissal came in response to an analyst pointing out that Wells Fargo had moved up in the league tables in the most recent quarter. Of course, Buffett also makes his loan shark investments in financial entities, as he did for GE (GE) and Goldman Sachs (GS) during the height of the financial crisis, and as he recently did for Bank of America (BAC), even if that last deal was struck at what Buffett described as less generous 2011, as opposed to 2008, "over-a-barrel" terms. "It's not 2008," were his exact words when asked why the terms Berkshire exacted from Bank of America weren't quite as attractive as the 2008 ones. American Express (AXP) also ranks among Buffett's favorite equity holdings, and much lower down in the Top 10 in the Berkshire equity portfolio, U.S. Bancorp (USB) makes an appearance as well. Yet Buffett didn't increase his position in either of those stocks recently, while he bought an additional 9 million shares of Wells Fargo. When it comes to paying his "fair" full value share for a bank stock, and continuing to pay up, it's Wells Fargo that continues to attract Buffett's dollars. Wells Fargo keeps paying him back, in its boring way, too. -- Written by Eric Rosenbaum from New York.
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