Wells Fargo's Buffett Business Drives Wall Street Ascendance

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Wells Fargo ( WFC) is now a solidly growing Wall Street player, after the nation's largest mortgage lender saw its strongest earnings growth from investment banking and wealth management businesses.

In its better-than-expected second quarter earnings report, Wells Fargo reported a 34% year-over-year rise in investment banking revenue and a 29% rise in net income from its wealth management businesses.

Top and bottom line gains in both units helped to stabilize Wells Fargo's earnings as its traditional lending businesses continued to show tepid growth amid a still struggling economy.

Wells Fargo's rising investment banking earnings also reflect burgeoning business the bank gets from its largest shareholder; Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway.

The bank's Wall Street-based earnings were likely bolstered by fees it earned in advising and financing Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital's $28 billion acquisition of ketchup maker Heinz ( HNZ) in February.

While Wells Fargo didn't disclose fees it earned on the deal, the acquisition closed on June 7, allowing the bank to book the fees during the second quarter.

Only Wells Fargo and JPMorgan ( JPM) were hired to advise and finance Berkshire and 3G's deal for Heinz, which stands as one of the largest acquisitions of 2013. In 2009, Wells and JPMorgan played a similarly exclusive role in underwriting financing for Berkshire's acquisition of Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

Prior to earnings, some analysts forecasted businesses traditionally dominated by Wall Street powerhouses such as Goldman Sachs ( GS) and Morgan Stanley ( MS) would help Wells Fargo's earnings.

JPMorgan banking analyst Vivek Juneja calculated prior to the earnings release that Wells Fargo's leverage loan volumes rose 123% quarter-over-quarter. Berkshire Hathaway and 3G capital financed their acquisition of Heinz with $14.1 billion in loans; however, some of the debt carried investment-grade ratings.

According to data provider Dealogic, Wells Fargo held a top-10 revenue share in the global investment banking business in the first half of 2013, surpassing standalone firms like Jefferies and international conglomerates such as UBS ( UBS), HSBC ( HBC), Royal Bank of Canada ( RBC), BNP Paribas ( BNPPQ) and Nomura ( NOM).

Wells Fargo's acquisition of Wachovia in 2008, meanwhile, continues to drive the bank's rising retail brokerage and wealth management performance. Client assets in its retail brokerage business grew 9% to $1.3 trillion, while its wealth management unit saw assets grow 3% to $203 billion.

Overall, Wells Fargo's wealth, brokerage and retirement businesses reported second-quarter earnings of $434 million, up 29% from the first quarter. Total revenue rose 2% to $3.3 billion, the company said.

The rising investment banking and wealth management revenue helped Wells Fargo to significantly beat expectations and grow its earnings for a fourteenth straight quarter.

The San Francisco-based lender reported better-than-expected earnings of $5.5 billion, on revenue of $21.4 billion, beating estimates of $5 billion and $21.2 billion respectively.

First-quarter earnings of 98 cents a share surpassed the consensus estimate of 93 cents, according to analyst forecasts compiled by Bloomberg.

Consensus was that the lender could see a slight sequential drop-off in earnings for the first time since the worst of the financial crisis, as a 2012 mortgage refinancing boom petered out and interest rates surged at the end of the quarter.

"Wells Fargo achieved outstanding results for the second quarter, with our diluted EPS growing for the 14th consecutive quarter and our returns on assets and equity increasing from second quarter 2012 and first quarter 2013," CEO John Stumpf said in a press release.

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-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York

-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York

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