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Abrupt departure of Wells CFO may leave investors wondering

February 8, 2011 |  5:52 pm

Howard I. Atkins' abrupt retirement as Wells Fargo & Co.'s top financial executive is likely to raise some questions in investors' minds, but one team of analysts is advising clients to buy on declines in the San Francisco bank's stock price.

Wells Fargo disclosed the news after the close of stock trading Tuesday. Its announcement said Atkins, a senior executive vice president as well as chief financial officer, was retiring for personal reasons "unrelated to the company’s financial condition or financial reporting."

Wells-double logo The company's shares, which had risen 2.3% before the news, were down by 67 cents, nearly 2%, in after-hours trading.

Timothy J. Sloan, Wells Fargo's chief administrative officer and a senior executive vice president, has been named its new chief financial officer, effective immediately, Wells Fargo said.

Atkins, who turns 60 this week, is taking an unpaid leave of absence until August, when he becomes eligible for retirement after reaching the 10-year mark with the company, Wells Fargo spokesman Oscar Suris said.

Given Atkins' "strong tenure" at Wells Fargo and the fact that the company is about to file its annual financial report with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the news "will likely be viewed negatively and we expect some pressure on the shares," Keefe, Bruyette & Woods analysts said in a note to investors.

"However," the KBW note added, "we would be buyers on weakness as we accept that this is not company-related and we believe that WFC has a very deep bench of financial executives."

 -- E. Scott Reckard

 

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