Banking & Finance

J.P. Morgan, Though Cautious on Large Cap Banks, Has 5 Picks for 2015

With a huge drop in oil a possible roadblock to what was already a slowly, but surely improving economy, many of the tailwinds for the large-cap banks from previous years are starting to go away. Add in a dose of interest rate indecision, and the water gets even more murky. A new research report from J.P. Morgan sees those factors contributing to a possibility for slower loan growth, an increase in overall market volatility and economic growth sputtering in U.S. oil-producing states.

While not overly negative on the banking sector as a whole, the J.P. Morgan analysts sees many of the big money center banks and large regionals as fully valued, or at a premium to historical price-to-earnings. They focus on five top stocks to own now, all of which are rated Outperform by the firm.

Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) has continued a methodical march back to financial health and is the only true big money center bank to make the list at J.P. Morgan. The company has a ubiquitous presence in the United States, providing various banking and financial products and services for individual consumers, small and middle market businesses, institutional investors, corporations and governments in the United States and internationally. Operating 5,100 banking centers, 16,300 ATMs, call centers and online and mobile banking platforms, the company continues to open new markets and expand share. The Merrill Lynch brokerage arm has continued to supply the bank with outstanding revenues and growth as well.

Bank of America investors are paid a tiny 0.2% dividend. The J.P. Morgan price target for the stock is $18. The Thomson/First Call consensus price target is $18.30. The stock closed Wednesday at $16.94.

BB&T Corp. (NYSE: BBT) is another top bank to buy for 2015 at J.P. Morgan. It is one of the largest financial services holding companies in the country, with $184.7 billion in assets and market capitalization of $26.8 billion. It operates 1,824 financial centers in 12 states and the District of Columbia, and it offers a full range of consumer and commercial banking, securities brokerage, asset management, mortgage and insurance products and services.

BB&T Investors are paid a very respectable 2.6% dividend. J.P. Morgan has a $40.50 target price, and the consensus figure is $40.90. The stock closed Wednesday at $37.19 a share.

Citizens Financial Group Inc. (NYSE: CFG) is one of the nation’s oldest and largest financial institutions, with $131.3 billion in assets. Citizens offers a broad range of retail and commercial banking products and services to individuals, small businesses, middle-market companies, large corporations and institutions. With 3,200 ATMs and approximately 1,200 Citizens Bank and Charter One branches in 11 states in the New England, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions, the company is a dominant player in those areas.

The J.P. Morgan has a price target of $27, and the consensus target is $26.12. Shares closed trading Wednesday at $24.

PNC Financial Services Group Inc. (NYSE: PNC) is one of the largest diversified financial services organizations in the United States providing retail and business banking; residential mortgage banking; specialized services for corporations and government entities, including corporate banking, real estate finance and asset-based lending; and wealth management and asset management. With consistent earnings growth and a very positive and growing loan portfolio, the company is a premiere super-regional bank stock to own.

PNC shareholders are paid a 2.2% dividend. The J.P. Morgan price target is $92, and the consensus target is $92.86. The stock ended trading on Wednesday at $86.75.

Sun Trust Banks Inc. (NYSE: STI) warned this week that its fourth-quarter financial results will include a $145 million provision for legal expenses related to “legacy mortgage matters.” Any hit to the price may allow investors a very solid entry point. With total assets of $186.8 billion, total deposits of $136.5 billion and a growing super-regional brokerage firm, Sun Trust has become a major player throughout the high-growth Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states.

SunTrust investors are paid a 2.0% dividend. The J.P. Morgan price target is $42, and the consensus is set at $43.08. The stock closed Wednesday at $39.49 a share.

While some of the nation’s biggest banks are noticeably absent from this list, the stocks to buy may provide growth investors with far more upside during 2015. The challenging landscape may prove difficult, and stocks that are more reasonably valued make good sense now.