Why Buying $9 Billion of GE's Loans May Not Be Enough for Wells Fargo

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- An informal poll during Wells Fargo's (WFC) presentation at the Morgan Stanley (MS) Financials Conference showed one thing clearly: People think the bank should buy more of GE Capital's (GE) portfolio, even though it's already purchased $9 billion worth.

Asked how much the San Francisco-based bank should buy of the $200 billion in loans that GE put up for sale, the guests picked the highest option: 40%. While Tim Sloan, senior executive vice president of wholesale banking at Wells Fargo, didn't address that possibility, he said the bank is pleased with its purchase and is opening to growth through such acquisitions.

Wells Fargo's purchase of commercial mortgages from GE, including loans in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom, should be completed by the third quarter, Sloan said. 

The portfolio is "performing as we move through the closing process better than expected," Sloan said. "We hope to be able to continue to acquire portfolios like that, whether it's from GE or others."

Wells Fargo's wholesale banking unit has acquired real estate, energy and asset-based lending portfolios over the past few years, Sloan said, and "if they fit our business model and we're comfortable from a customer standpoint, we'd love to grow that way."

General Electric announced in April that it planned to sell most of its GE Capital portfolio and refocus on its manufacturing businesses, which include products from medical equipment to wind turbines to airplane engines. The sales should allow Fairfield, Conn.-based GE to shed the systemically important financial institution (SIFI) designation imposed by the Treasury Department after the financial crisis, which set stricter regulatory requirements on the entire company.

Sloan took the transaction one step further, explaining how it solidified the bank's relationship with both New York-based Blackstone (BX) and GE. Initially, GE approached Blackstone about buying its entire commercial real estate portfolio -- but by Sloan's measure, that may have been too much for Blackstone to take on. Luckily, Blackstone's Global Head of Real Estate, Jon Gray, remembered his friend Sloan at Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo provided about $4 billion of financing to Blackstone for the deal.

"I think Jon appreciated that that would have been a transaction that even though Blackstone is a very successful firm -- would have been too big for them," Sloan said. "It was a great partnership with the Blackstone folks, a very important customer for us. And it was also -- it also reinforced the relationship we had with GE, because that was very important for them to get a large transaction closed."

 

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