In remarks delivered today at a Merrill Lynch banking conference in New York, Wells Fargo & Co. CEO John Stumpf said that the nation's second-largest lender is "not immune" from the housing slowdown and mortgage crunch, while making the latest Great Depression reference in discussing the state of the current mortgage market. From Bloomberg:
Stumpf, who has been in the banking industry for more than 30 years, said the current housing market is the worst since the Great Depression. He spoke in New York at a conference sponsored by Merrill Lynch & Co. Wells Fargo's profit in the third quarter grew at the slowest pace since the second quarter of 2002 after losses from home-equity and consumer loans at the San Francisco-based bank climbed. Stumpf said today that the bank's home-equity losses are likely to increase in the fourth quarter and remain "elevated" through 2008. "It's hard to say what inning we are in," he said of the declining housing market. "I don't think we are in the ninth inning. If we are, it's going to be an extra inning game."
Looking at the numbers (see this post from late October), it is very clear we aren't at any sort of inflection point yet as it relates to housing and mortgages, and I'm sure Stumpf is very aware of that. The Wells CEO also said that the largest problem differentiating the current housing slump from others in the past is "a pervasive" oversupply now saturating nearly every major market in the United States. While I agree, there is also a differentiator on the financial side: even compared to the 1990s downturn, we've got so much more of housing invested into the capital markets in ways that simply didn't exist in past down cycles. All of which explains why there is so much speculation around the dreaded "R" word these days.