Wells Fargo Looks To Offload $41 Billion Mortgage Servicing Portfolio

by Trefis Team
Wells Fargo & Co.
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In what comes as the latest proof of diminishing attractiveness of the mortgage servicing industry, banking giant Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) is reportedly looking to sell a portfolio of mortgage servicing rights (MSRs) worth about $41 billion. [1] The servicing rights for government-backed loans, which forms but a small fraction of the $1.9 trillion in mortgage servicing rights owned by Wells Fargo, should be an attractive buy for standalone mortgage-servicing companies like Ocwen (NYSE:OCN), Nationstar (NYSE:NSM) and Walter Investment Management (NYSE:WAC). This move also follows a slew of job cuts announced by Wells Fargo over recent months to downsize its mortgage-focused operations (see As Refi Boom Wanes Wells Fargo Cuts Headcount At Mortgage Lending Unit).

Strict government regulations have forced the big banks to rethink their mortgage-servicing strategy even as lower margins put pressure on their bottom line figures from the business. Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) was the first among the banks to begin shrinking its mortgage serving portfolio – selling MSRs worth $10.4 Billion to Nationstar last June.

We maintain a $46 price estimate for Wells Fargo’s stock, which is about 10% above the current market price.

See our complete analysis of Wells Fargo here

The role of a mortgage servicer involves looking at the nitty-gritty of mortgage installment payments on behalf of the actual investors in the mortgage. While this primarily includes managing the billing and collection of the monthly payments for all underlying mortgages, it is also the servicer’s responsibility to take care of the foreclosure process in case a mortgage turns bad.

The country’s biggest banks have traditionally been the largest servicers of mortgages, with Wells Fargo leading the pack with MSRs of just under $1.9 trillion at the end of Q2 2013. JPMorgan Chase comes in at a distant second with a $832 billion mortgage-servicing portfolio followed by Bank of America with its $759 billion portfolio. Quite notably, Bank of America had $1.6 trillion in MSRs at the end of Q1 2011 – more than double its current figure.

The table below summarizes the changes in the size of MSRs for the country’s five biggest banks – which are also the five biggest mortgage servicers – over the last ten quarters and is based on figures provided by them as a part of quarterly regulatory filings.

(in $ mil) Q1 2011 Q2 2011 Q3 2011 Q4 2011 Q1 2012 Q2 2012 Q3 2012 Q4 2012 Q1 2013 Q2 2013
Wells Fargo 1,859 1,866 1,858 1,854 1,890 1,905 1,913 1,906 1,890 1,896
Bank of America 1,610 1,578 1,512 1,379 1,313 1,224 1,142 1,045 949 759
JPMorgan 955 941 925 902 884 860 811 859 849 832
Citigroup 440 431 404 393 379 359 340 320 305 295
U.S. Bancorp 183 185 186 191 200 207 211 216 220 224

The trend seen above is unmistakable: the banks which have actively focused on the mortgage business over the recent years (Wells Fargo and U.S. Bancorp) are the ones who have seen a growth in the size of MSRs, whereas the other banks have shrunk their portfolio over the period.

But Wells Fargo’s decision to sell MSRs worth $41 billion is a marked departure from this trend and highlights the changing scenario in the mortgage industry. Worth just over 2% of the bank’s total mortgage-servicing portfolio, the MSRs up for sale are not really a significant part of Wells Fargo’s business and their profitability is further limited by the fact that the customers who borrowed these loans do very little business with the bank otherwise. The sale of these “non-core” loans is, hence, not expected to impact Wells Fargo’s operating value much in the long run – something that can also be verified by making necessary changes to the chart above.

However, if the portfolio sale is actually a precursor to more such sales by Wells Fargo in the near future, then it would mean a drastic change in the bank’s outlook towards the business and will result in a slower growth in the MSR portfolio (if at all) over the years compared to what we estimate in the chart above.

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  1. Wells Fargo Said to Be Selling Mortgage Servicing Rights, Bloomberg, Sep 12 2013 []
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