Is Banco Santander Becoming Safe to Invest In Again?

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Banco Santander S.A. (NYSE: SAN) may be a banking giant based in Spain, and that automatically makes it one the banks of the PIIGS nations. Something hard to utter in the same question or comment is starting to look possible to probable here. This Spanish bank may be closer to be a safe investment again. This is not a daily outlook, but is one that 24/7 Wall St. is still evaluating for 2014.

The impetus for this line of thinking is twofold. The first issue is a Wall Street Journal report out of London showing that HSBC Holdings PLC (NYSE: HSBC) agreed to sell its 8% stake in the bank of Shanghai to Banco Santander. The report does not show a price of the sale but gave a value of around $468 million as of the end of September.

If we just flat-line the math and say that this $468 million is close enough to the price in games of horseshoes and hand grenades, then maybe Banco Santander is truly improving. Things have been bad for so long in Spain that it seems a miracle that Spanish and ECB regulators would even allow such a transaction to occur. After looking back over recent news, we also saw that the bank agreed to pay almost $190 million to buy the majority stake of the consumer finance unit of the large department store and retailer El Corte Ingles.

If the Spanish bank is buying assets, how bad can things still be?

Another issue is that it seems as though Banco Santander may not be forced to cut its dividend. It is incredibly high at 7.3% in dollar terms at the moment. Where that settles down ultimately is up for a guess. If this dividend in Madrid translates to roughly the same yield ahead, then US investors may look at this bank’s high dividend as a sign that perhaps it simply means that the shares are grossly undervalued.

It has been very hard to endorse anything in the lands of the PIIGS and Europe for so long, but the news has migrated from bad to “less-bad” and ultimately to “better” in recent months. With many US forecasters believing that Europe will improve handily in 2014, it just might be time to think about what would have seemed unthinkable for so long.

Trading in New York is down 0.2% for its ADSs, down to $8.63 against a 52-week range of $6.31 to $9.32. Its market cap is also close to $92 billion. Banco Santander could be a value play for risk-tolerant investors.

This is an outlook that is still under development for our year-end reviews. After all, Spain’s last official unemployment rate was 26.7% just in October.

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