Wells Fargo annual meeting drawing protesters

By Rick Rothacker

SAN FRANCISCO | Tue Apr 24, 2012 1:42pm EDT

(Reuters) – Activist groups say protesters plan to disrupt Wells Fargo & Co’s (WFC.N) annual shareholder meeting on Tuesday to vent their anger over foreclosures, executive compensation, corporate taxes and other issues.

Demonstrators plan to march to the site of the meeting near the bank’s headquarters in the financial district from a nearby park. Police were already a visible presence in the streets around the meeting site on Tuesday morning. The shareholders meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. PST (20:00 GMT)

“Banks are big and greedy,” said Julia Cheng, one of the protesters. “They only care about themselves.”

Demonstrators started gathering at the park on Tuesday morning, but it was not clear whether the event would draw as many protesters as organizers have said. There were more than 200 protesters carrying placards and supplies such as food and water. The peaceful gathering included Occupy Wall Street protesters from San Francisco and Oakland.

Looking to build on the energy of the Occupy movement, activist groups are targeting corporate stock holder meetings this spring to draw attention to economic disparity in the United States and to promote an assortment of other causes.

A group called 99% Power – a reference to those not among the top 1 percent of earners – has said it plans actions at 36 shareholder meetings, starting with Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo has emerged as one of the healthier U.S. banks from the financial crisis and expanded across the United States after buying North Carolina-based Wachovia Corp in 2008.

The bank is the largest U.S. mortgage originator and servicer, making it a target for protesters who say lenders have treated struggling borrowers poorly. Wells was one of five big lenders to agree this year to a $25 billion national mortgage settlement over foreclosure abuses.

Wells Fargo spokesman Ancel Martinez said the bank works hard to keep homeowners in their homes and that fewer than 2 percent of its owner-occupied homes have gone into foreclosure over the past year.

At the shareholder meeting, stockholders will get a chance to ratify or reject the bank’s executive compensation plan and vote on a proposal to split the chairman and CEO roles held by John Stumpf. Last week, shareholders delivered a rebuke to Citigroup Inc’s (C.N) management when they gave a surprising vote of no confidence to the bank’s executive compensation plan.

(Reporting By Rick Rothacker in San Francisco; editing by Andre Grenon)

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