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Wells Fargo Record Earnings Loom, but Growth Stays Tied to Economy

Updated to reflect opening share prices and Smead Capital comment

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Wells Fargo (WFC) may post a 15th consecutive quarter of earnings-per-share growth, surpassing consensus expectations of a slight decline, as investors in the bank await signs of rising economic growth in the U.S.

Such a scenario indicates that Wells Fargo still has room to improve its bottom line and drive overall EPS growth, even in an economic environment where expectations of job creation, gross domestic product growth and activity in the housing market have fallen sharply in recent months.

After a few quarters of strong mortgage origination revenue, Wells Fargo is poised to see a significant decline in activity as a mid-quarter surge in mortgage rates put some home-buyers and those seeking to refinance their loans on the sidelines. Meanwhile, downward trends to the labor market and mixed data on GDP growth indicate that the bank is still operating in a weak economic environment that is depressing small business formation, consumer loans and housing activity.

Consensus Wall Street forecasts compiled by Bloomberg indicate that Wells Fargo will report revenue of $21 billion, a drop sequentially and from year-ago levels. Those forecasts also indicate Wells Fargo may see its earnings fall sequentially, after the bank reported a record 98-cents a share in diluted second quarter EPS.

While consensus may indicate a poor quarter for Wells Fargo, some expect the bank to continue its bottom line earnings growth as credit quality improvements, rising net interest income and higher mortgage servicing revenue offset expectations of declining housing market activity.

"We do think that Wells Faro can continue to show sequential growth in their earnings per share," Marty Mosby, a large-cap banking analyst with Guggenheim Securities, said in a Wednesday telephone interview.

Mosby forecast Wells Fargo's mortgage origination activity will drop substantially from second-quarter levels, but that it will be offset by expense reductions and other parts of the bank's business such as its credit quality.

Wells Fargo will also continue to buy mortgage securities, in an effort to deploy the bank's excess liquidity into yield-earnings assets, according to Mosby.

Whether or not Wells Fargo can find a way to grow its EPS will certainly be the headline coming out of the bank's third quarter results, due at 8 a.m. ET on Friday.

"We expect that Wells Fargo will put together another good quarter," Tony Scherrer, Director of Research and Co-Portfolio Manager at Smead Capital, said in a telephone interview.

Wells Fargo continues to grow its market share in key banking functions such as mortgage lending, wealth management and consumer deposits. As a result, many expect that the bank will show strong earnings leverage to consistent economic growth in the U.S.

"We still have years ahead for Wells Fargo to capitalize on a trend in home starts," Scherrer said of the bank's about share of the U.S. mortgage market and current below-trend home starts figures. Even with mortgage originations poised to fall about 30% from the second quarter, Wells Fargo remains at an advantageous position. "The secular trend is far more important than a single quarter," Scherrer added.

Wells Fargo shares were rising over 1% to 41.39% in early Thursday trading. Shares have gained nearly 20% year-to-date, excluding dividends, outperforming the S&P 500.

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