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Wells Fargo CEO Stumpf Quits in Fallout From Fake Accounts

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John Stumpf
  • Wells Fargo CEO Stumpf Quits in Fallout From Fake Accounts

John Stumpf, who led Wells Fargo & Co. through the financial crisis and built it into the world’s most valuable bank, stepped down as chief executive officer and chairman, bowing to public outcry over legions of accounts opened by his employees for customers who didn’t request them.

Stumpf, 63, is retiring from both posts effective immediately, the bank said Wednesday in a statement. Tim Sloan, 56, the chief operating officer long viewed as his most likely successor, will become CEO. Lead director Stephen Sanger will become the board’s non-executive chairman. Elizabeth Duke, a former Federal Reserve Board governor, will be vice chair.

“This was John Stumpf deciding that the best thing for Wells Fargo to move forward was for him to retire — even though that was a very difficult decision,” Sloan said in an interview. “He wasn’t fired” or even “gently pushed” by the board.

Stumpf leaves Wells Fargo and its 268,000 employees with a damaged reputation. It has refunded $2.6 million to affected customers and has said it’s ending sales incentives that have been blamed for the abuses. The stock fell as much as 12 percent after the misdeeds became public, and its subsequent rebound hasn’t been enough for Wells Fargo to retake the top spot in market value among U.S. banks, which it relinquished to JPMorgan Chase & Co.

‘Great News’

Wells Fargo shares climbed 1.8 percent to $46.13 in extended trading at 7:28 p.m. in New York, after the San Francisco-based company announced Stumpf’s exit. The stock had slumped 17 percent this year through the close of regular trading, the worst performance in the 24-company KBW Bank Index.

“It’s great news” for investors because it may help quell the public’s frustrations, said Tony Scherrer, director of research at Smead Capital Management, which oversees more than $2 billion including shares of Wells Fargo. “There’s no better and more reasonable fall guy out there than John Stumpf.”

Stumpf told directors Monday that he wanted to leave, and the board received his written resignation Wednesday morning, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The exit was approved that day, Sloan said. He declined to comment on the board’s investigation of senior executives and other managers over the misconduct. The company said Stumpf wasn’t available for interviews.

It’s an ignominious end to a nine-year tenure as CEO that saw Wells Fargo grow to become the biggest U.S. home lender with returns that were the envy of other bank executives. The profits were driven in part by cross-selling — offering credit cards to customers who opened checking accounts, for example — the strategy that’s at the center of the scandal that brought Stumpf down.

His unraveling began Sept. 8, when the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced that Wells Fargo had agreed to pay $185 million to settle allegations it secretly opened the unauthorized accounts. Multimillion-dollar settlements have become almost routine in the banking industry, but the brazenness and breadth of the misconduct struck a nerve.

The U.S. Senate called a hearing, and two weeks later Stumpf traveled to Washington for a three-hour grilling. “I am deeply sorry that we’ve failed to fulfill on our responsibility to our customers, to our team members and to the American public,” Stumpf told the Senate Banking Committee. “I’ve been through many challenges at Wells Fargo, but none of which pains me more.”

Senators took turns berating him. Senator Elizabeth Warren accused him of “gutless leadership” for blaming junior employees.

“You should resign,” the Massachusetts Democrat told Stumpf. “You should be criminally investigated by both the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission.”

Unvested Stock

A week after the hearing, Stumpf agreed to forgo $41 million in unvested stock that had been granted for performance, as well as some of his salary.

That wasn’t enough for Congress. At a second hearing on Sept. 29, called by the House Financial Services Committee, Stumpf denied there was any organized effort to open sham accounts. Lawmakers suggested the bank should be broken up and called for his arrest.

Wells Fargo “is a criminal enterprise,” said Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat. “Would you allow someone to walk out after robbing your bank?”

Sloan’s ascent may not appease such outcry. He’s close to Stumpf, serving on the operating committee and holding several of the company’s most senior posts. He was chief financial officer for three years until 2014, when he took over the bank’s Wall Street operations. He became president and chief operating officer last November, overseeing key divisions that include the retail arm, where abuses occurred.

“I remain concerned that incoming CEO Tim Sloan is also culpable in the recent scandal, serving in a central role in the chain of command that ought to have stopped this misconduct,” U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, said in a statement.

‘Fresh Slate’

Yet Sloan is highly regarded internally and, importantly, didn’t work within the tainted branch network during the misconduct, said Marty Mosby, an analyst at Vining Sparks.

“His background has been the wholesale bank and not the consumer bank,” Mosby said. So the appointment “is kind of a fresh slate.”

The bank has said it fired 5,300 employees over the fake accounts. Some low-level employees came forward, saying they were under intense pressure to meet sales quotas. They said managers told them to do whatever it took to open new accounts, even if customers didn’t ask for them.

At Warren’s insistence, the Department of Labor agreed on Sept. 26 to conduct a review of whether the bank violated wage and overtime rules while pushing branch workers to meet aggressive targets. U.S. prosecutors are also investigating, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

“What you saw from the two hearings was that he came across as really out of touch, not just with what was going on in the bank, but also with the current political environment,” said Brian Kleinhanzl, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods in New York. “It was a certain aloofness that he presented, which is not what you wanted to see in that situation. Overall, he completely misread the situation.”

Minnesota Dairy

Stumpf, one of 11 children of a dairy farmer from Pierz, Minnesota, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Minneapolis, joined the loan department of Norwest Corp. in 1982 and rose through the ranks. In 1998, Norwest merged with Wells Fargo and Stumpf was put in charge of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. He was appointed president in 2005.

When Stumpf assumed the top job in June 2007, the U.S. housing bubble was about to pop. A year later, amid the ensuing financial crisis, he outmaneuvered Citigroup Inc. to purchase Wachovia Corp. American Banker chose Stumpf as its 2013 Banker of the Year, and Morningstar Inc. named him its CEO of the Year for 2015. Aside from settlements with cities such as Baltimore and Memphis for predatory mortgage lending in which it neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing, Wells Fargo generally avoided controversies that ensnared some of its competitors.

While Stumpf lacks the presentation skills of some other CEOs, he deserves credit for managing the integration of Wachovia, said Gary Townsend, founder of family office GBT Capital Management in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Other CEOs

Other Wall Street CEOs have survived more costly misdeeds. Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. was excoriated at a 10-hour Senate hearing in 2010 over the bank’s aggressive marketing of mortgage investments and paid a then-record $550 million fine. JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon faced a congressional committee’s displeasure over the London Whale trading debacle, which ended up costing more than $1 billion in fines. Even J.P. Morgan Jr. was dragged before Congress in 1933 to take blame for the Great Depression. None lost his jobs.

“There is not a single American with a bank account who hasn’t had complications, errant fees or frustration,” said Isaac Boltansky, an analyst at Compass Point Research & Trading LLC in Washington. “That’s what makes this account scandal so insidious and relatable.”

Folksy Persona

Wells Fargo has paid Stumpf more than $250 million since 2000, when the bank first began disclosing his compensation. That figure includes $23 million in salary, $44 million in cash bonuses, and $190 million from the vesting of stock and exercising of stock options.

He owns $100 million of the bank’s shares, plus stock options that would be worth $41 million if exercised at Wednesday’s closing price. He’s eligible for $24 million from his retirement plans if they were paid out in a lump sum.

He should “return every nickel he made while this scam was going on,” Warren said in an e-mailed statement Wednesday. “If Mr. Stumpf is leaving with all of his ill-gotten millions that’s still not real accountability.”

Unprofitable Accounts

As CEO, Stumpf cultivated a folksy persona, regaling interviewers with descriptions of his hardscrabble upbringing. He pushed cross-selling, using slogans including “Eight is Great” to encourage bankers to sell eight different products to each customer.

Ironically, the fake accounts weren’t profitable for Wells Fargo, according to Mike Mayo, an analyst at CLSA Ltd. in New York.

Stumpf was two years away from Wells Fargo’s mandatory retirement age of 65. Some analysts said they weren’t surprised by his decision to leave early.

“As this issue snowballed, it began to look like the most likely outcome,” said R. Scott Siefers at Sandler O’Neill & Partners. “You had high-profile politicians calling for his resignation. There was a lot of vitriol directed at them publicly. So this should help to stanch some of that bleeding.”

CEO/Founder Investors King Ltd, a foreign exchange research analyst, contributing author on New York-based Talk Markets and Investing.com, with over a decade experience in the global financial markets.

Crude Oil

Oil Rises as Threat of Immediate Iran Supply Recedes

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Oil prices rose on Tuesday, with Brent gaining for a fourth consecutive session, as the prospect of extra supply coming to the market soon from Iran faded with talks dragging on over the United States rejoining a nuclear agreement with Tehran.

Brent crude was up by 82 cents, or 1.13%, to $73.68 per barrel, having risen 0.2% on Monday. U.S. oil gained 91 cents, or 1.3%, to $71.79 a barrel, having slipped 3 cents in the previous session.

Indirect discussions between the United States and Iran, along with other parties to the 2015 deal on Tehran’s nuclear program, resumed on Saturday in Vienna and were described as “intense” by the European Union.

A U.S. return to the deal would pave the way for the lifting of sanctions on Iran that would allow the OPEC member to resume exports of crude.

It is “looking increasingly unlikely that we will see the U.S. rejoin the Iranian nuclear deal before the Iranian Presidential Elections later this week,” ING Economics said in a note.

Other members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) along with major producers including Russia — a group known as OPEC+ — have been withholding output to support prices amid the pandemic.

“Additional supply from OPEC+ will be needed over the second half of this year, with demand expected to continue its recovery,” ING said.

To meet rising demand, U.S. drillers are also increasing output.

U.S. crude production from seven major shale formations is forecast to rise by about 38,000 barrels per day (bpd) in July to around 7.8 million bpd, the highest since November, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its monthly outlook.

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Crude Oil

Oil Prices Rise as Demand Improves, Supplies Tighten

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Oil prices rose on Monday, hitting their highest levels in more than two years supported by economic recovery and the prospect of fuel demand growth as vaccination campaigns in developed countries accelerate.

Brent was up 53 cents, or 0.7%, at $73.22 a barrel by 1050 GMT, its highest since May 2019.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate gained 44 cents, or 0.6%, to $71.35 a barrel, its highest since October 2018.

“The two leading crude markers are trading at (almost) two-and-a-half-year highs amid a potent bullish cocktail of demand optimism and OPEC+ supply cuts,” said Stephen Brennock of oil broker PVM.

“This backdrop of strengthening oil fundamentals have helped underpin heightened levels of trading activity.”

Motor vehicle traffic is returning to pre-pandemic levels in North America and much of Europe, and more planes are in the air as anti-coronavirus lockdowns and other restrictions are being eased, driving three weeks of increases for the oil benchmarks.

The mood was also buoyed by the G7 summit where the world’s wealthiest Western countries sought to project an image of cooperation on key issues such as recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the donation of 1 billion vaccine doses to poor nations.

“If the inoculation of the global population accelerates further, that could mean an even faster return of the demand that is still missing to meet pre-Covid levels,” said Rystad Energy analyst Louise Dickson.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Friday that it expected global demand to return to pre-pandemic levels at the end of 2022, more quickly than previously anticipated.

IEA urged the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies, known as OPEC+, to increase output to meet the rising demand.

The OPEC+ group has been restraining production to support prices after the pandemic wiped out demand in 2020, maintaining strong compliance with agreed targets in May.

On the supply side, heavy maintenance seasons in Canada and the North Sea also helped prices stay high, Dickson said.

U.S. oil rigs in operation rose by six to 365, the highest since April 2020, energy services company Baker Hughes Co said in its weekly report.

It was the biggest weekly increase of oil rigs in a month, as drilling companies sought to benefit from rising demand.

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FG Spends N197.74 Billion on Subsidy in Q1 2021

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The Federal Government has spent a total sum of N197.74 billion on fuel subsidy in the first quarter (Q1) of 2021, according to the Federal Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) report for May.

The report noted that the value of shortfall, the amount the NNPC paid as subsidy, in the March receipts stood at N111.97 billion while N60.40 billion was paid in February.

In the three months ended March, the Federal Government spent N197.74 billion on subsidy.

The increase in subsidy was a result of rising oil prices, Brent crude oil, against which Nigerian oil is priced, rose to $73.13 per barrel on Monday.

The difference in landing price and selling price of a single litre is the subsidy paid by the government.

On May 19, the Nigerian Governors Forum suggested that the Federal Government removed the subsidy completely and pegged the pump price of PMS at N380 per litre.

The governors’ suggestion followed the non-remittance of the NNPC into the April FAAC payments, the money required by most states to meet their expenditure such as salaries and building of infrastructure.

However, experts have said Nigeria is not gaining from the present surge in global oil prices given the huge money spent on subsidy.

Kalu Aja, Abuja-based financial planner and economic expert, said “If Nigeria is importing Premium Motor Spirit and still paying subsidy, then there is no seismic shift.”

“Nigeria needs oil at $130 to meet the deficit. In the short term, however, more dollar cash flow is expected and with depreciated Naira, it will reduce short term deficit.”

Adedayo Bakare, a research analyst, said that the current prices do not really mean much for the country economically.

He said, “The ongoing transition away from fossil fuels and weak oil production from the output cuts by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries will not make the country benefit much from the rising oil prices.

“Oil production used to be over two million barrels but now around 1.5 million barrels. We need OPEC to relax the output cuts for the naira to gain.”

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