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Wells Fargo Would Benefit by Buying Broker Willis, KBW Says

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Feb. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Wells Fargo & Co., the biggest U.S. bank by market value, could add to earnings by buying insurance broker Willis Group Holdings Plc, KBW Inc. analysts said.

Banks seek brokerages to generate fee revenue that isn’t dependent on lending and to build relations with commercial clients. BB&T Corp. said this month it would buy insurance divisions of Crump Group Inc. for $570 million to expand distribution of life coverage.

Wells Fargo is seeking to expand its wealth management and insurance divisions through acquisitions, Chief Executive Officer John Stumpf was quoted as saying in a Financial Times article Feb. 26. The San Francisco-based lender has a market value of more than $160 billion, compared with about $6 billion for Willis.

“Wells could buy a company the size of Willis Group fairly easily,” said KBW analysts led by Frederick Cannon, in a note to investors yesterday. “An insurance brokerage acquisition would help to increase Wells’ fee income.”

A deal for London-based Willis, the third-largest broker, is more probable than an acquisition of larger rivals Marsh & McLennan Cos. and Aon Corp., KBW said. Mary Eshet, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo, and Willis’s Sarah Robson declined to comment.

Buying Willis for 30 percent more than its market value would cost Wells Fargo about $8 billion and increase 2013 earnings to $3.27 a share from $3.15, Cannon estimated.

Willis rose 1.5 percent to $35.42 at 2:15 p.m. in New York trading. The broker has slipped about 8.7 percent this year. Wells Fargo advanced 27 cents to $31.30 and has jumped 14 percent since Dec. 31.

Wells Fargo agreed last week to buy Paris-based BNP Paribas SA’s North American energy-lending business, including almost $9.5 billion of outstanding loans.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Ludtke in New York at aludtke@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Kraut at dkraut2@bloomberg.net