Wells Fargo still sidelined

April 20, 2011, 4:45 PM UTC

Not rolling

Another day, another mediocre bank earnings report.

Wells Fargo (WFC) shares fell 2% in premarket trading after the San Francisco lender became the latest big bank to post a mixed first quarter.

Wells made $3.8 billion, or 67 cents a share, in the quarter ended March 31. That’s up from $2.5 billion, or 45 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue fell 5% from a year ago to $20.3 billion.

Analysts were expecting a profit of 66 cents a share on revenue of $21.2 billion.

“Our strong first quarter results reflected positive trends in our business fundamentals as credit quality improved, capital ratios increased and cross-selling reached new highs,” said CEO John Stumpf. “As the economy continued an uneven recovery, our business customers increased borrowing and utilization of credit lines – a hopeful sign that businesses are once again investing for growth.”

But investors are wondering if they will see any returns from funds they pour into the banking industry, which after all is the only major sector to post negative returns over recent years. Where will the growth come from at a time when the economy is growing slowly and regulators are belatedly pushing for stronger capital and liquidity buffers?

Those pressures were evident in Wells’ results. Mortgage banking revenue fell by $741 million from fourth-quarter levels, while net interest income slipped as rates remained low and older, higher-yielding investments matured. Wells said its top-in-class net interest margin fell to 4.05% from 4.16% in the fourth quarter.

Wednesday morning’s selloff puts Wells stock down around 10% over the past year. With new banking rules still being drafted and domestic economic growth in no danger of breaking out, it is not clear when the Wells stagecoach will start rolling again.

Also on Fortune.com:

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