Court Decision Spells New Trouble for Banks: Wells Fargo & Company (WFC) and More

The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation (NYSE:BK) announced today it expects to have to absorb an $850 million charge from the IRS, after a court said the bank couldn’t utilize certain foreign tax credits it had come to count on. And BNY Mellon isn’t the only American bank that might be affected by this decision.

1 for you, 19 for me
According to Financial Times, Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE:WFC) has also benefited from the foreign tax credit scheme, which was arranged through British banking giant Barclays. The deals are called Structured Trust Advantage Repackaged Securities, or STARS, and were set up by Barclays from 1999 to 2006.

Wells Fargo & Co (NYSE:WFC)The suit against BNY Mellon was brought by the IRS, which claimed that STARS “amounted to tax shelters that exploited loopholes between U.S. and U.K. laws.” BNY Mellon plans to appeal, but if the decision is upheld, it could allow the IRS to also come after Wells Fargo, as well as North Carolina-based BB&T Corporation (NYSE:BBT) .

You’ll be just fine, probably
BNY Mellon stated that it will be able to easily absorb the charge, and I believe them: A quick glance at the balance sheet shows more than $165 billion in cash on hand for the country’s ninth largest bank, which means taking an $850 million hit — while not fun, it’s also not imperiling. And if the bank loses its appeal, so long as it starts figuring these denied tax credits into the cost of doing business, it will likely be fine.

Neither Wells nor BB&T has commented yet on the decision, nor is it yet known how much money they’re into these STARS for. But with more than $216 billion in cash on the balance sheet, Wells is also very well-capitalized and should therefore be able to easily absorb whatever potential costs lie down the road. Like BNY Mellon, Wells is also a very smartly run, conservative bank, and it unlikely got itself into anything it couldn’t handle.

BB&T? Well, with only $4.25 billion on the balance sheet and nearly $22 billion in debt, it’s not so well capitalized; let’s just hope management was smart in its dealings with the Brits, because an $850 million hit would not be so easily absorbed.

In case you didn’t notice, Wells Fargo is one of my favorite banks in the market today. Its dedication to solid, conservative banking helped it vastly outperform its peers during the financial meltdown. Today, Wells is the same great bank as ever, but with its stock trading at a premium to the rest of the industry, is there still room to buy, or is it time to cash in your gains?

The article Court Decision Spells New Trouble for Banks originally appeared on Fool.com and is written by John Grgurich.

Fool contributor John Grgurich has no position in any stocks mentioned. Follow John’s dispatches from the bleeding heart of capitalism on Twitter @TMFGrgurich. The Motley Fool owns shares of Wells Fargo.

Copyright © 1995 – 2013 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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