Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf spoke at the Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference in New York on Friday, May 29th. His remarks covered topics such as Wells Fargo’s core deposit base and the competitive advantage it will offer in a rising rate environment, the importance of the bank’s branch network, key areas of investment, attractive growth opportunities and the potential for more acquisitions. Stumpf also made a commitment to change the corporate culture at WFC and clean up all operations.
Wells Fargo's Stumpf on Warren Buffett
When asked "Would Berkshire ever consider taking a Board seat?," Stumpf replied "First of all, Warren is a friend. I actually went out to his 50th annual meeting in Omaha a couple of weeks ago. I had not been before."
He went on to say: "...actually to have him as our largest shareowner -- this is the best investor the world has ever known. For him to have pushing towards 10% ownership of the Company, a valuation of his share $28 billion, is such a privilege to earn his confidence.
He is -- a couple things about him. He is very long term in his thinking and he knows us as well or better than we know ourselves. He reads everything that we produce. I called him one day on something or he called me, I can't remember what it was. He said, you know, I was reading your 10-Q this weekend.
I said just a second? He said, yes, I was reading this and on page you 37 in the notes, you are doing something with a VIE, a variable investment. I said, Warren, don't you watch football on Saturdays? He said no."
Stumpf also noted that Buffett had not asked about a seat on the WFC board. "So here you have this guy who is incredibly detailed and understands the issues, but yet when you talk with him he is talking about the morale of the team and what you are seeing in this industry. How do you think about this five and 10 and 20 years forward? It's just one of the great privileges I have had to --. And as far as a Board seat, I know he has -- in the past he has been on the Board of Coke. I think he was an owner. But he has never talked to me about that; it has never come up. I think he is busy with what he is doing. And we love the Board we have right now."
Stumpf positive on U.S. economy
Like a growing number of CEOs, Well's Fargo's Stumpf was also optimistic about the U.S. economy. A June 1st report from research firm Bernstein highlights that WFC is highly levered to the U.S. economy to the tune of 97% of revenues. In his remarks, Stumpd said he believes the weak first quarter growth was anomalous and projects full-year U.S. GDP can climb back to the 2.2 to 2.4% range, implying annualized growth in the range of 3% for the last three quarters of the year. He also pointed to strength in the auto, commercial real estate and technology sectors, and expressed cautious optimism on the housing market, with fundamentals clearly improving and at their best levels since the financial crisis.