Wachovia Corp.'s nonperforming assets jumped in the fourth quarter as it added Golden West Financial Corp. to its results for the first time, but executives expressed confidence about credit quality and presented an accelerated timetable for rolling out products to the Oakland thrift company's branches.
At yearend Wachovia had $1.4 billion of nonperformers. They declined $100 million at Wachovia's legacy businesses, but the Golden West purchase, which closed Oct. 1, added $700 million, for a net increase of $600 million. The purchase, along with several one-time items, complicated the $707 billion-asset Charlotte company's fourth-quarter earnings report, but analysts said its core earnings met expectations.
Donald Truslow, Wachovia's chief risk officer, said during a conference call Tuesday that when the effects of the addition of Golden West's portfolio and a gain on the sale of a property were excluded, "nonperforming assets were essentially stable with the third quarter, which we feel very good about."
Thomas Wurtz, Wachovia's chief financial officer, echoed the positive tone on credit quality in an interview.
"We see a pretty benign credit environment over the course of 2007," Mr. Wurtz said. Wachovia expects provisions to be "modestly higher" this year.
Gerard Cassidy, an analyst at Royal Bank of Canada's RBC Capital Markets, said that the increase in nonperformers from Golden West, which specializes in adjustable-rate mortgages, was not surprising. Still, "it certainly is something for all of us to keep an eye on."
Golden West's fourth-quarter mortgage originations fell 25% from a year earlier, to $9.79 billion. Excluding those loans, Wachovia's mortgage originations dropped 0.7%, to $6.3 billion.
Wachovia said it is adjusting to a slowdown in home lending by rolling out products to the Golden West branch network several months ahead of schedule. It plans to introduce free checking in former Golden West branches at the end of next month, nearly eight months ahead of schedule.
"We didn't anticipate we would be doing much to the product set at Golden West prior to the conversion of the branches" set to begin in October, Mr. Wurtz said.
Wachovia's fourth-quarter net income rose 35%, to $2.3 billion, and earnings per share rose 11 cents, to $1.20. When adjusted for several one-time items and discontinued operations, the company said, net income climbed 49%, to $2.28 billion, and earnings per share climbed 22 cents, to $1.19.
Several analysts put core earnings at $1.18 a share, in line with the average Wall Street forecast.
Full-year operating net income rose 16%, to $7.91 billion, and earnings per share increased 40 cents, to $4.70.
For the fourth quarter, loan-loss provisions rose 89%, to $206 million. Wachovia cited higher credit costs related to its credit card and small-business lending businesses, as well as seasonal factors in its auto finance business.
"I want to acknowledge up front there are a lot of moving parts this quarter, given our recent Golden West merger," G. Kennedy Thompson, Wachovia's chairman and chief executive officer, said during Tuesday's earnings conference call.
Revenue growth improved in the fourth quarter from the disappointing third-quarter rate, Mr. Thompson said.
Wachovia adjusted its results to show the effects of acquisitions. It said fourth-quarter revenue rose 13% from a year earlier and 6% from the third quarter, to $8.45 billion. Net interest income rose 2% from the third quarter, to $4.59 billion, and noninterest income increased 10%, to $3.86 billion.
Though analysts said Wachovia's fourth-quarter noninterest expenses - which rose 8% from the third quarter, to $4.73 billion - were higher than expected, Mr. Wurtz said that it was "an outstanding quarter from a revenue standpoint," and that much of the revenue led to higher incentive compensation.
"We feel very confident that we are right on track, that we will do what we said we would in terms of the efficiency ratio," he said.