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Wells Fargo set for political trouble through 2020, analyst warns


Cowen is forecasting trouble for Wells Fargo through next year, with mounting risk as Democrats aim for the bank.

Analyst Jaret Seiberg flagged remarks by House Financial Services Chairman Maxine Waters, who last week indicated she’ll subject Wells Fargo to extra attention. That includes calling for more testimony and focusing on the board and new CEO Charles Scharf, Seiberg said.

“Wells Fargo does not appear close to putting its Washington troubles behind it,” Seiberg wrote in a note.

Given the tension, he said it’s hard to see how the Federal Reserve could vote to lift the asset cap it imposed on the bank next year. And he added that the Fed lifting its growth restrictions might not matter much as the Comptroller of the Currency likely has separate, confidential enforcement actions in effect.

Seiberg pointed to an even “worse outcome” brewing for Wells Fargo: Getting dragged into the 2020 presidential election.

“For now, Democrats like Elizabeth Warren are mostly focused on private equity and big tech,” he said. “Calls to break up big banks or impose a separation between commercial and investment banking have been muted. That could change if attacks by House Democrats get traction.” Democrats winning would mean the bank “will be even more exposed to onerous policy developments,” Seiberg warned.

Wells Fargo shares climbed 0.6% in pre-market trading on Monday. Other big banks gained as well, with Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase both rising 0.3%, while U.S. futures edged higher, with volumes subdued as investors count down to the holiday break.

On Friday, Credit Suisse’s Susan Roth Katzke said banks face a “source of uncertainty” with the 2020 election. She noted bank stocks have historically outperformed in the year leading up to a presidential election, while “risk is heightened by polarization of policy and macro uncertainty,” with a focus on regulation.

Also last week, Odeon’s Dick Bove downgraded Wells Fargo to sell from hold as the bank “appears to be directionless at the moment,” even with its compelling consumer business. Wells Fargo may ultimately “fashion a business plan that has merit, but it does not have one now,” Bove wrote in a note.

Bloomberg News