Wells Fargo & Co., whose famous name had faded a bit, is beginning to look a lot like the old Norwest Corp. to some analysts.
Norwest, which last fall combined with Wells Fargo, "was one of the top performers in the industry," pointed out Sean J. Ryan, a banking analyst at Bear, Stearns & Co. "We believe the new Wells Fargo can sustain that performance."
But the new Wells Fargo has quite a legacy to live up to. Before the merger, Norwest was one of just 11 companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 with a compounded annual growth rate of 15% in revenues, 13% in earnings per share, and 15% in dividends.
The newly positive assessments by Mr. Ryan, as well as by George Bicher of BT Alex. Brown, run counter to sentiments by some other market watchers that Wells has been a bit too slow with crucial integration steps.
The pairing "is the one where the market may be overestimating the execution risk," Mr. Ryan said. The merger could well prove "to be among the most successful of last year's crop."
Shares of Wells Fargo and Co. closed at $37.4375, on Friday, up 68.75 cents.
Mr. Ryan thinks that within 12 months the shares could hit $52, or 20 times per-share earnings, which is around the multiple that Norwest shares once carried.
The "make-or-break issue for Wells' stock is whether Norwest can fix what went wrong at the old Wells or whether these problems will infect the old Norwest franchise," Mr. Ryan said.
The recent selloff in bank stocks "has created an attractive opportunity in the shares of Wells Fargo," Mr. Bicher said.
He said his confidence was boosted by a recent meeting with Wells management.
The executives, Mr. Bicher said, are comfortable with earnings-per-share projections of 13% growth in 1999, 16% in 2000, and 17% in 2001.
The overall cost savings projection of $650 million is unchanged, though more savings are being pushed into 2000.
"The integration is going well," Mr. Bicher said. "There has been just a modest delay in meeting cost savings projections" but the shortfall is being more than made up for by revenue growth.
Mortgage banking, subprime lending, and a repositioning of pricing are all producing benefits, Mr. Bicher said.
"Wells Fargo, with its purely domestic franchise, strong earnings, and now favorable valuation is a compelling opportunity," Mr. Bicher said.
The assessment came as bank stocks recovered Friday, along with the overall market, from several sharp jolts induced by investors fears surrounding Brazil's currency devaluation.
The Standard & Poor's bank index rose 3.52% and the Dow Jones industrial average 2.41%. The S&P 500 was up 2.56% and the Nasdaq bank index 2.30%.
Citigroup's shares gained $1.125, to $52; Chase Manhattan Corp.'s $2.6875, to $70.9375; and J.P. Morgan & Co.'s $6.8125, to $108.8125.
Among regionals, Fleet Financial Group was up $1.5625, at $44.5625; Mellon Bank Corp. $5.25, at $70.375; and PNC Bank Corp. 62.5 cents, at $49.9375.