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Wells Fargo Reports 14 Percent Increase
In Profits

Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO — Wells Fargo & Co.'s profits topped $1 billion in the first quarter, the bank said Tuesday, as its 1998 merger with Norwest continued to progress smoothly.

The bank first-quarter net income totaled $1.01 billion, or 61 cents per share, beating analysts' average estimate by a penny, according to a survey by First Call/Thomson Financial. The profit represented a 14 percent increase from the first quarter last year when Wells Fargo earned $884 million, or 53 cents a share.

Most key measures of the bank's financial performance rose in the quarter, indicating that the November 1998 marriage between San Francisco-based Wells and Minneapolis-based Norwest is functioning better than many recent big bank mergers.

The company's stock was up 62 cents at $40 a share in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

While Wells has completed the mergers in several small Western states, the bank still hasn't converted the customers in California, the company's stronghold, to the new system being used by the merged bank.

Wells executives said the bank attracted more customers in most lines of business. Loans climbed by 15 percent from the first quarter of 1999 and more than 100,000 new customers signed up for the Wells' Internet banking service, a trend that could help lower costs over the long haul. The bank said it now has 1.7 million Internet banking customers and roughly one in every four of those use the service to pay their bills online.

Home mortgages, a major part of the bank's business, showed some sluggishness in the first quarter as rising interest rates discouraged refinancing activity. The bank's mortgage division earned $67 million in the quarter, up just 2 percent from the previous year.

Later this year, Wells expects to add about 1 million new customers through the recently announced acquisitions of Michigan Financial Corp., First Commerce Bancshares of Nebraska, National Bancorp of Alaska and Salt Lake City-based First Security Corp.

Net-interest income in the first quarter was $2.46 billion, up almost 7 percent from $2.28 billion in the year-ago period.

Noninterest income totaled $1.91 billion, a jump of almost 11 percent from the year-ago results of $1.73 billion.

Those results included $885 million in one-time gains realized from venture capital investments that Wells has made in other businesses, primarily near its San Francisco headquarters. Those gains were largely offset by $602 million in losses on the sales of securities in the bank's investment portfolio and a $160 million writedown in its auto leases to reflecting declining used car values.

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