Shares of Wells Fargo & Co. rocketed past the $200 price mark on Wednesday, fueled by Wall Street optimism.
In afternoon trading, the stock was up $4.25 on brisk volume, to $202.75, before it fell back to close at $199.25, up 75 cents for the day. The shares have gained more than 10% during the past week and trade at an impressive 290% of book value.
Both Wells and First Empire State Corp. - which ranked second among major banks in share price at $193.125 - count the influential financier Warren Buffett among their shareholders. The recent surge in Wells' price is attributable to a series of "buy" recommendations and raised earnings estimates that the San Francisco bank has won from industry analysts.
The most recent boost came from Lawrence R. Vitale of Bear, Stearns & Co., who recommends the stock and on Tuesday raised his 1995 forecast for earnings to $18.35 per share from $18. He expects $20 per share next year.
The analyst said he anticipates stronger third-quarter results than he did previously, noting that Wells Fargo's loan growth has continued while its deposit base has stabilized.
The company's results had been expected to suffer from a slip in net interest income after the sale of $4 billion of mortgages. But Mr. Vitale said that may not happen now.
Moreover, he said, it appears that some of Wells Fargo's nontraditional banking initiatives are starting to pay off. "The impact will still be modest this quarter, but this area will be gaining some steam over the next year," he said.
Earlier in the week, analyst Thomas K. Brown of Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette Securiites Corp. offered a highly bullish outlook for the company, which he views as on the cutting edge of new technology and marketing in banking services.
Analyst Diane B. Glossman of Salomon Brothers Inc. also recently noted the bank's high level of activity in what she calls "on-demand banking." Her firm upgraded the stock to a "buy" rating in late August.
Wells Fargo has been the most active of the California banks in supermarket banking, she noted, with about 70 fully staffed branches in the outlets of various West Coast supermarket chains. Another 180 single- employee "banking centers" are located in such stores.
Over the past two years, as the supermarket branches were established, Wells Fargo reduced its traditional branch network by 68 offices, she noted.
The bank also has 2,100 automated teller machines and gained recent notice by allowing customers to purchase stamps. Such moves have given the bank "a reputation for being innovative," she said.
Wells Fargo has also been active in banking via telephone and personal computer, she said. It has an estimated base of one million customers that is growing 6% annually.
Mr. Brown of DLJ, a critic of many banking mergers this year, has also touted Wells Fargo as a highly disciplined company that is capable of producing strong future revenues without making costly acquisitions.
But another bank analyst, George M. Salem of Gerard Klauer Mattison & Co., has said in several recent reports that Wells is the most likely buyer of First Interstate Bancorp, Los Angeles. Last month, he said such a deal had a 50% to 60% chance of happening.