Jim Puzzanghera
January 13, 2017

Wells Fargo & Co. on Friday reported a 6% drop in fourth-quarter profit in the wake of a scandal over its employees creating as many as 2 million accounts without customer authorization.

Earnings at the San Francisco-based bank, the nation’s third-largest, came in below analysts’ estimates as Wells Fargo continued to deal with the fallout from the controversy, which has caused a steep drop in the number of new account openings.

Still, in a conference call with analysts, Chief Executive Tim Sloan said he was “excited that we saw what seems to be an inflection point” in the scandal’s effects.

“We are pleased that the trends have stabilized and many metrics have started to show improvements,” he said.

The bank improved its acquisition of new customers in December, opening 2% more checking accounts than in November. But the figure still was down 40% from a year earlier.

Credit card applications declined 7% in December from the previous month, and were down 43% from a year earlier.

Fourth-quarter profit at Wells Fargo’s community banking division, which includes the unit responsible for the unauthorized accounts, declined by 14%, to $2.7 billion, from a year earlier.

Overall, Wells Fargo’s net income declined to $5.3 billion, or 96 cents per share, from $5.6 billion, or $1.03 per share, a year earlier. Fourth-quarter revenue was $21.6 billion, the same as a a year earlier.

Analysts had expected earnings per share of $1 on $22.5 billion in revenue, according to FactSet Research Systems Inc. The quarter was the first full one since the scandal broke.

For all of 2016, profits declined 4% to $21.9 billion compared to the previous year. The drop came despite a 3% increase in revenue to $88.3 billion.

During the bank’s conference call, Sloan noted that the bank had taken steps to put the scandal behind it.

He highlighted the bank’s new compensation system, which was announced this month and changed the way it pays tellers and other bank workers. It eliminates the incentive-compensation system that led employees to create accounts without customer approval.

Investors reacted well to Friday’s earnings announcement. Wells Fargo stock rose 81 cents, or 1.5%, to $55.31. The stock has recovered 27% since hitting a 52-week low in early October.

But Bert Ely, an independent banking analyst, said it was unclear whether Wells Fargo was past the scandal.

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