It’s been over a month since departing Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen sent Wells Fargo & Co (NYSE:WFC) to the doghouse for poor corporate governance and financial controls — a move that clipped almost 10% off the Wells Fargo stock price.
InvestorPlace contributor Ian Bezek discussed the significance of the Fed’s actions in a Feb. 7 article. While he concluded that Wells Fargo stock is cheap, I’m not so easily swayed by the value proposition.
The misdeeds Wells Fargo undertook in the quest for growth are a betrayal of trust to both customers and shareholders; forgiveness should not be so easily won.
“Sadly, the recent scandals knocked the bank down from that pantheon. In the space of a few short quarters, Wells Fargo went from the country’s best big bank to the worst. For the all troubles that institutions like Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) got into to, none of them ended up the subject of a massive Federal Reserve crackdown.”
It isn’t sad when a bank of any size gets caught with its hand in the cookie jar; that’s what bank regulators are paid to do. What’s sad is that investors are willing to give Wells Fargo a first, second and third chance to redeem itself.
Aren’t there any other banks in the U.S. worthy of investors’ capital? Of course, there are. I can think of several. If you want exposure to the banking sector or WFC stock, but don’t want to own it outright, here are three alternative investment ideas.
Alternative #1 to Owning Wells Fargo Stock
Assuming you agree with my premise that there are other banks to invest in other than Wells Fargo, it’s merely a matter of selecting one.
For my money, the best bank to invest is SVB Financial Group (NASDAQ:SIVB), the holding company for Silicon Valley Bank.
The bank was founded to provide loans and other banking services to entrepreneurial customers in Silicon Valley. Since then, it’s grown into a bank with $51 billion in assets, $22 billion in loans and $102 billion in assets under management or administration. It’s entire reason for being is to provide the capital necessary for innovation and growth.
It doesn’t want to be the biggest bank — although it’s pretty significant — it just wants to help its customers drive innovation.
I first recommended SIVB stock back in 2012 when big banks were still struggling. I liked the company’s laser-like focus. That hasn’t changed. It’s always got a singular purpose that’s unique from most banks, especially Wells Fargo.
This focus is why a year later I called SVB Financial one of “The Five Best Stocks to Buy for the Next 20 Years.”
If you want to go direct, SIVB is the bank stock to own.
As Warren Buffett gets older, he gets harder to understand. The younger Warren Buffett would have thrown the book at Wells Fargo. Today, he seems unable to part with Wells Fargo stock despite evidence the company might be rotten to the core.
At the end of February, Buffett argued that current WFC CEO Tim Sloan is cleaning up the giant mess left by former CEO John Stumpf. Buffett believes it will all work out in the end.
Indeed, his optimism has never waned, a personality trait that’s made him so popular. Disliking him is difficult.
If you don’t want to own Wells Fargo directly until it gets out of the doghouse, buying Berkshire Hathaway Class B shares makes sense because WFC stock represents just 17% of BRK’s $171-billion equity portfolio and an even smaller 4% of the company’s $702 billion in total assets.
Once Wells Fargo’s out of the doghouse, you can buy it directly if you want.
If you’re not keen on owning BRK — I’m not sure why anyone wouldn’t want to own it — the other alternative is to buy an ETF that has a significant weighting in Well Fargo stock while still providing diversification.
The obvious choice would be to go with a financials ETF with low fees such as the Vanguard Financials ETF (NYSEARCA:VFH), which charges 0.10% annually. WFC stock is the third-largest holding (at 6.33%) of the portfolio.
Ironically, BRK is the next-biggest holding at 6.2%. You can run, but you can’t hide, from Warren Buffett.
As of this writing Will Ashworth did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.