Bonus: Chris Whalen notices tremendous people at Wachovia.
TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Renita Jablonski: Wells Fargo is buying Wachovia for just over $15 billion. That takes Citigroup and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation out of the picture. Citi was only looking to grab Wachovia’s banking operations. The FDIC said it would step in to pick up any loan losses. Wells Fargo says this morning it will acquire all of Wachovia and that it doesn’t need the government’s help.
We’re joined now by Chris Whalen, managing director of Institutional Risk Analytics. Chris, you’ve been watching these developments for awhile. What do you think of Wachovia now getting together with Wells?
Chris Whalen: I think they’re a much better fit for one another. I also was really a little concerned about Citi, because you know, they have the most subprime consumer focus in their business model — Citi’s loss rate on loans, for example, tends to be twice the other large bank peers’. So I am not keen on seeing Citi buy anything right now.
Jablonski: And we should mention that Wells Fargo did play a little game of hard to get here because it had initially wooed Wachovia with a $20 billion figure, kind of pulled out of that — that’s when the Citigroup / FDIC thing started and then came back. What brought Wells back to this?
Whalen: Well I think the Wells Fargo folks ran the numbers and they decided that they needed to make a bid. If you look at Wells Fargo’s perspective, they have a way of getting into the northeast, into the southeast, and that’s a beautiful thing for them, cause they’re now a national franchise. And once they deal with the asset quality problems, they have tremendous people at Wachovia that they can integrate into the Wells Fargo. And I think they couldn’t say no — they had to get in the game. And that’s great news for all of us.
Jablonski: How important is the timing of this deal, coming down on this day of the House bailout vote? I guess this raises the question, is government intervention truly necessary right now?
Whalen: Well, not this intervention. I’ve been opposed to the House plan since day one, and the reason is we’re fighting a battle that we should have fought six months ago in terms of liquidity, the accounting rules that started this mess. And really, the big picture here is we’re going through a deflation. We’re having asset values fall, a lack of a bid for many assets. We have to fix that and make leverage our friend again.
Jablonski: But I have to ask you this, I mean it seems the perception at least is that Wall Street is so much counting on this bailout at this point.
Whalen: Well, don’t worry about Wall Street. Believe me, Wall Street will be there tomorrow. But we’ve got to stop looking at short-term market indicators as an indication of reality. I think we spend far too much time looking at the television set and far too little time talking to one another. And if we did more of the latter, I think we could get out of this.
Jablonski: Well, it was good talking to you. [read: Me give up watching TV network news and opinion shows? No way.]
Whalen: Thank you.
Jablonski: Chris Whalen of Institutional Risk Analytics.