The Best Big Bank Stock

bankMarshall Hargrave:  Much of the market has a love-hate relationship with the financial industry following the 2008 financial crisis.


Despite the worst being behind us, many investors still aren’t sure how profitability shakes out in light of regulatory changes.

As a result, big bank earnings came and went last week without much attention. Overall, it was a disappointment, as low interest rates continue to hamper many of the banks’ earnings growth.

But the financials have offered some of the greatest value opportunities we’ve seen in a long time following the financial crisis. And over the last three years, the Financial Select Sector SPDR Fund (NYSEArca: XLF) has outperformed the S&P 500.

Since the start of 2009, both Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), have surged more than 100%. Meanwhile, some of the other big bank stocks that took a much greater pounding during the financial crisis have yet to recover. This includes both Citigroup (NYSE: C) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), which are down 20% and up 20%, respectively, since the start of 2009.

Many investors have tried to convince themselves that underperforming big banks are value opportunities. Now, the big question is: Are big banks really offering the same great value opportunities we saw in 2008 and 2009? Possibly, but the beauty here is that you can invest with a lot less risk and uncertainty.

The only two worth focusing on remain Wells Fargo and JPMorgan. These two are well positioned and are still trading at valuation discounts larger than what we saw prior to the financial crisis.

The key difference for these two big banks is that Wells Fargo is trading at a richer valuation, but for good reason.

Wells Fargo JPMorgan Chase
Market cap $279 billion $236 billion
52-week performance 8.9% 11.7%
Dividend yield 2.75% 2.75%
Return on equity 12.9% 10.2%
Return on assets 1.3% 0.9%
Price-earnings ratio 13.1 10.9
Price-to-book ratio 1.6 1.1

Wells Fargo is more expensive in terms of price-earnings and price-to-book ratios, but mainly because it’s generating superior returns. Hands down, Wells Fargo is one of the best banks in the business, but what really matters is the future growth.

The Issue With Owning JPMorgan

JPMorgan is still a solid bank with the same fundamentals that limited credit losses during the financial crisis. The bright spots for JPMorgan are strong loan growth and its commitment to reining in expenses.

However, it’s still paying for other’s mistakes, including Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual. It also has some headwinds that it’s facing in capital markets businesses, which led to weaker-than-expected revenues last quarter.

Filling CEO Jamie Dimon’s shoes while he undergoes treatment for throat cancer will be a tough task as well. JPMorgan has lost a number of top managers over the last few months.

The Best Big Bank Stock

The nice thing about Wells Fargo is that it’s been growing revenues despite low interest rates, due to its strong position in mortgage lending and originations.

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