There Is No Question This Stock Is Overvalued

Chad is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

I understand that Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) has a lot of fans in the stock market. With Warren Buffett being one of the largest stockholders, it's easy to understand the attraction to the stock. However, the company's recent earnings suggest that the stock is overvalued. It's not just one thing either, the issues facing the company range from deposit problems, to credit quality, to the stock price.

Banking 101
It's easy to forget what makes most banks tick after the issues of the last several years. There was an old adage about bankers, that they lived on threes and sixes. The traditional banker was thought to pay 3% on deposits, lend money at 6%, and play golf at 3 PM.

Today the core of banking is still deposit gathering and lending. However, there are many complications to the business like fair lending rules, financial oversight, fee regulations, and more. That being said, deposits and loans are still an important measure of a bank's health, and by these measures, Wells Fargo has some issues.

It's not always deposit growth, but what types of deposit are growing
In banking, there is one simple rule, checking accounts are more important than any other type of account. The reason is simple, generally speaking checking accounts are non-interest bearing, and this is the cheapest source of funds. Since the bank also collects fee income from these accounts, they are highly profitable.

The problem at Wells Fargo is, the company's deposit growth isn't mainly coming from checking accounts. On the surface, the company's total deposit growth of 6.36% looks good. By comparison, BB&T (NYSE: BBT) reported 4.7% deposit growth, JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) reported deposits up 7%, and Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) saw deposits climb 4.38%.

However, once you get past the overall numbers, there is a difference in how these companies grew. Of BB&T's total deposits, about 37.13% come from money markets and savings, versus 39% at Bank of America. JPMorgan reported a higher percentage, with 51.87% of their total deposits coming from money market and savings accounts. However, Wells Fargo beat them all with 54.51% of their total deposits from money market and savings accounts.

The problem is, Wells Fargo is growing their deposits, but this growth is coming from more expensive sources. It's fine when interest rates are low to see good growth in money markets and savings, but longer-term, you want to see the biggest growth in checking accounts.

If this is a quality institution, you wouldn't know it by looking at their loans
If Wells Fargo is a quality institution, you wouldn't know it looking at the company's credit quality. While it's true that Bank of America has a worse percentage of non-performing loans at 2.53%, Wells Fargo isn't far behind at 2.44%. The difference between the two is, Bank of America saw their non-performers drop by 17.8% on a year-over-year basis, whereas Wells Fargo reported a decline of 7.21%.

Looking at JPMorgan and BB&T, their non-performers are already much lower than Wells Fargo. In fact, JPMorgan's non-performers stand at 1.6% of their portfolio, and BB&T reported a ratio of just 1.12%. As you can see, Wells Fargo seems to have a problem with their credit quality.

To add even more fuel to the fire, Wells Fargo's biggest problems are in its 1-4 family real estate loans. In fact, almost half of the company's non-performing loans come from this category. When you consider that 4.49% of the company's loans in this category are non-performing, the company's heavy push into mortgage lending should worry investors.

Sticking with the credit issue, Wells Fargo also has the lowest coverage ratio of their non-performing loans as well. In the last quarter, JPMorgan reported the highest coverage ratio at 179%, followed by BB&T at 130%, and Bank of America at 98.24%. Wells Fargo, on the other hand, reported a coverage ratio of just 88.09%. With a high percentage of past due loans, and the lowest coverage ratio, it's possible Wells Fargo's management may be underestimating their liabilities.

And the stock is overvalued too
If you look at Wells Fargo's forward P/E ratio of 10.2 compared to BB&T at 10.5, JPMorgan at 8.48, or Bank of America at 12.64, the stock looks fine. Analysts expect Wells to grow earnings by 8.1%, which looks better than JPMorgan at 7.03%, but worse than BB&T at 8.33%, and Bank of America at 22%. The company's yield of over 3% is right in line with BB&T and JPMorgan, and much better than Bank of America. So where is the problem?

The problem is, the company's book value relative to the share price. By this measure, Wells Fargo is more highly valued than any of their peers. Bank of America sells for just 60.3% of book value, JPMorgan sells for about 91%, and BB&T sells for 114%. By comparison, Wells Fargo currently sells for over 133% of book value.

Given that the company has issues in their loan portfolio, and their deposits are coming from more expensive sources than their peers, the current valuation doesn't seem to make sense. At current prices, investors are saying Wells Fargo is 16% better than BB&T, 46% better than JPMorgan, and 120% better than Bank of America. Given this extreme valuation difference, I don't see how anyone can say Wells Fargo isn't overvalued.

Wells Fargo's dedication to solid, conservative banking helped it vastly outperform its peers during the financial meltdown. Today, Wells is the same great bank as ever, but with its stock trading at a premium to the rest of the industry, is there still room to buy, or is it time to cash in your gains? To help figure out whether Wells Fargo is a buy today, I invite you to download our premium research report from one of The Motley Fool's top banking analysts. Click here now for instant access to this in-depth take on Wells Fargo.


Chad Henage owns shares of BB&T.; The Motley Fool recommends Wells Fargo. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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