Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE: WFC) has replaced J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) as the safest bank in America. This did not happen overnight and it is not just because of the losses recently announced by Jamie Dimon. Wells Fargo shares in the woes of foreclosures, credit card debt write-offs, and other loans facing delinquencies. The key issue is that Wells Fargo really does not engage in anywhere the amount of proprietary trading that J.P. Morgan and other money canter banks engage in. It also has far less exposure to outside of the United States.
The admission of a $2 billion loss due to improper hedging losses was one thing from J.P. Morgan. The problem is that Jamie Dimon signaled that the losses could widen out further in the months ahead. Ultimately the bank will be out of those trades, but these are apparently illiquid enough that the bank cannot simply say “market-sell order” to another trading desk. J.P. Morgan Chase also has exposure to Europe and elsewhere at a time when BRIC growth has been slowing substantially and while Europe is in meltdown mode.
Wells Fargo is just more of a traditional bank that makes its money off of deposit management, client advisory services, brokerage, loans, and mortgages. The bank also still trades at a premium to its book value of $25.45 as of March 31, 2012. Its share price is $31.37 after a 1.4% gain today and the 52-week range is $22.58 to $34.59.
J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) has now joined Bank of America Corporation (NYSE: BAC) and Citigroup, Inc. (NYSE: C) in trading at substantial discounts to their prior book values. As we have said over and over, book value is the ceiling right now rather than the floor. When investors believe that book values will be dropping or that a bank’s earnings power is drained, does book value even matter? It is not as though the banks could auction off those assets and realize that price overnight.
The book value of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) was $47.60 at the end of the first quarter. That compares to $46.59 the previous quarter and compares to $43.34 in the first quarter of 2011. J.P. Morgan shares are down 2.6% at $32.62 after two broker downgrades today.
Bank of America Corporation (NYSE: BAC) reported that its stated book value is $19.83 per share, and its tangible book value was $12.87 per share. BofA trades at $6.88 after a 2% drop today.
Citigroup, Inc. (NYSE: C) reported that its book value was $61.90 on the stated value methodology and its tangible book value was $50.90 at the end of March. Citi trades at $26.18 after a 0.6% gain today.
Jamie Dimon might still be the strongest CEO in the room, but as of now it is Wells Fargo that is the safest of the big money-center banks.
JON C. OGG