) -- KPMG said Friday that it remains

Wells Fargo's

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external auditor, though the firm wouldn't comment on recent criticism that Wells' financial disclosures aren't up to snuff.

KPMG spokesman George Ledwith confirmed that the Big Four accounting firm is still working with Wells Fargo, which plans to file its 10-K annual report by the end of the month.

Howard Atkins, who had been CFO of Wells Fargo for nearly a decade, resigned unexpectedly last week and won't be signing off on that report. His replacement, Tim Sloan, will do so instead.

"Yes, KPMG LLP (U.S.) is the external auditor for Wells Fargo & Company," said Ledwith.

In response to questions about whether KPMG stands behind Wells Fargo's previous financial reports and disclosures, he said, "We can't comment based on audit client confidentiality."

>>>Wells Fargo CFO 'Retires' Unexpectedly

Wells Fargo has stood by its assertion that Atkins left for "personal reasons" that are unrelated to its financial reporting or condition. However, his abrupt departure led

at least one analyst to downgrade the company this week.

Chris Whelan, of Institutional Risk Analytics, claimed that certain executives are concerned enough about Wells Fargo's accounting and disclosure practices that they have contacted regulators about it. Separately,


has reported that Atkins left after butting heads with his boss, CEO John Stumpf, though the reasons behind the conflict remain unclear.

Wells Fargo has declined to comment beyond its initial statement regarding Atkins' departure. The reason appears to be held tightly among just a few people at the top of Wells Fargo.

Several sources close to the situation who were contacted by


- including consultants, lawyers and insiders - have said they don't know any information beyond what the company has publicly stated, or are unwilling to discuss it due to legal confidentiality agreements. Attempts to reach Atkins have so far been unsuccessful.

Even if Whelan's allegations regarding Wells' accounting practices are unfounded, the unexplained resignation of a C-level executive, combined with widespread attention regarding Whelan's published report, can be enough to lead the

Securities and Exchange Commission

to launch a probe, according to a source within the agency.

The source was speaking generally about SEC practices and past cases, but had no direct knowledge of the Wells Fargo situation.

SEC spokesman John Nester declined to comment on the matter, citing regulatory policies.

>>>Wells Fargo Investors Want Answers

The mystery around his sudden departure have weighed on Wells Fargo's stock over the past several days. Shares of the San Francisco-based banking giant have declined 3.4% since the disclosure and were down 0.8% at $32.69 in recent trading. In December, Wells Fargo became the most valuable bank in the country by market capitalization, though it's now trumped by

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Wall Street is still bullish on Wells Fargo shares, with several equity analysts reiterating buy recommendations since Atkins' departure. Twenty of the 32 analysts covering the stock recommend that clients continue to purchase shares, with the average target price at $37.16, according to Thomson Reuters.

However, investors may have to wait until Wells' 10-K is filed, or until additional disclosures are made, to regain some strength.

-- Written by Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York


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