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Protesters target Wells Fargo annual shareholder meeting

April 24, 2012|By E. Scott Reckard
  • A protest last week at Wells Fargo Center in L.A. targeted the bank's alleged failure to pay its fair share of taxes. Organizers said they expected thousands of protesters to descend on Wells Fargo's annual meeting Tuesday in San Francisco.
A protest last week at Wells Fargo Center in L.A. targeted the bank's… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

SAN FRANCISCO -- Wells Fargo & Co. was bracing for revolts at its annual shareholder meeting as well as in the streets outside, as demonstrators from around the country poured into town to complain about its lofty executive pay, alleged disregard for troubled homeowners and a host of other issues.

Organizers said they expected 2,000 to 3,000 protesters to march through the streets early Tuesday to the the Wells meeting at the downtown Merchants Exchange Building, a landmark that survived the great earthquake and fires that devastated San Francisco in 1906.

A coalition of community, labor and religious activists calling itself "99% Power" had demanded that Wells Chief Executive John Stumpf grant them an hour at the meeting to air grievances. The request denied, they said they would try to block shareholders of the giant San Francisco company from entering the building.

Angus Maguire of a group called “We Are Oregon” said the protesters are united by the belief that big banks created a financial catastrophe and “the political system is not doing anything to address the real problems.”

 “It’s a slap on the wrist for bankers, who get to start pocketing their big bonuses again,” Maguire said. “Meanwhile, the rest of us are still struggling with unemployment and foreclosures.”

A Facebook page for the event listed nearly 400 attendees early Tuesday.

In a curtain-raiser of sorts Monday, 10 protesters from the coalition were arrested in Iowa on trespassing charges after blocking the entrance to Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, which is based in Des Moines. Wells is by far the biggest U.S. home lender and the fourth-biggest bank as measured by assets.

Wells Fargo spokesman Ancel Martinez said the bank would not yield the floor outright to the protesters. He said, though, that Stumpf expected harsh questioning during a Q&A lasting at least an hour from activists who had purchased stock in the bank, entitling them to attend the meeting.

 “We’ll have adequate security to ensure the meeting goes smoothly,” Martinez said, adding that Wells Fargo supports the right to peaceful protests.

Stump and his top aides faced several shareholder measures challenging the bank's governance, including a "say on pay" vote like the one in which Citigroup Inc. shareholders last week turned thumbs down on CEO Vikram Pandit's $14-million pay package.

The say on pay votes, required at least every three years by laws passed after the financial crisis, are not binding. But a negative vote can make it appear that corporate directors are disregarding the concerns of the company's owners if they do nothing to address complaints.

Stumpf's compensation totaled $19.8 million last year, and his three-year total tops $60 million, mostly in stock awards.

Comparisons to New York's Citigroup beyond high compensation are more difficult. Citi nearly melted down during the financial crisis, needed two rounds of government bailout funds, and has seen its stock languish at less than 10% of its pre-crisis high.

Wells Fargo, by contrast, weathered the crisis in far better shape and has recovered more than 90% of its pre-crisis share price. With profit back at near-record levels, Wells has been rewarded with the largest stock market value of any U.S. bank, $175 billion versus $97 billion for Citigroup.

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