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By Dan Freed
May 24 (Reuters) - Wells Fargo & Co lowered two key financial targets on Tuesday and said it was sharply cutting exposure to troubled energy loans, signaling that tough times for bank profits may continue through the rest of the year.
Low interest rates, higher capital requirements and increasing credit costs are weighing on Wells Fargo’s results, prodding the San Francisco-based lender to reduce its targets for returns on assets and on shareholder equity.
In a presentation pegged to its biennial investor day event, Wells said it was targeting a return on assets of 1.1 percent to 1.4 percent this year, down from the 1.3 to 1.6 percent it detailed at its investor day in 2014. The bank’s full-year return-on-equity target was now 11 percent to 14 percent, down from 12 percent to 15 percent.
Analysts said they were expecting the news, given the difficulties banks face in terms of interest rates, markets and regulations.
“We don’t view Wells Fargo’s cuts to its target as surprising,” Goldman Sachs analyst Richard Ramsden said in a note.
Since Wells Fargo’s 2014 guidance, it has taken steps to prepare for lower interest rates for a longer period of time. As a result, the bank said it would benefit less if interest rates suddenly jolt upward. Federal Reserve officials recently signaled that the U.S. central bank could be on track to raise interest rates in June or July.
Wells said it now expected its net interest margin would rise 5 to 15 basis points if the yield curve shifted upward by 100 basis points. Its prior expectation was for a net interest margin benefit of 10 to 30 basis points from such a move. A basis point is one hundredth of 1 percent.
Energy loans have been a sore spot for banks in recent quarters due to the long-running oil price rout that put many borrowers in dire financial straits. Wells Fargo was particularly aggressive in lending to energy companies when the sector was booming, and it was now taking steps to reduce its exposure.
Wells Fargo’s finance chief, John Shrewsberry, said the bank was more than halfway through a reassessment of loans to energy companies involved in exploration and production, and has cut credit lines for 68 percent of those it has reviewed.
In its presentation, Wells said it expected “continued stress” in its book of oil and gas loans throughout 2016.
“More credit losses will be realized and there is the potential for additional reserve builds,” the bank added.
Reporting by Dan Freed in New York; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Dan Grebler