With constant scrutiny, and yearly tests to see if they are in compliance, the top banks have quickly become an asset class that investors have become very careful with. Despite paying back the government bailouts with interest, the industry is still looked at by many with an unwarranted degree of scorn. A new research note from the analysts at Jefferies concedes that some of the biggest banks are very cheap, but that doesn’t necessarily make them a great buy now.
Jefferies bank analyst Ken Usdin, who covers U.S. banks, is in the camp of a Federal Reserve interest rate increase in the fourth quarter of this year, although most agree that nobody really knows when it will be. The fallout from the plunge in oil will temper job growth, just as things were getting back on track, which will have an effect on when rates rise. The Jefferies five top picks are a solid way to play the finance sector without undue risk.
Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) has continued a methodical march back to financial health and is one of the two true, big money center banks to make the list of stocks to buy at Jefferies. The company is 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, which Jefferies feels it excels in. The Merrill Lynch brokerage arm has continued to supply the bank with outstanding revenues and growth.
Bank of America investors are paid a tiny 0.2% dividend. The Jefferies price target for the stock is $19. The Thomson/First Call consensus price target is $18.63. The stock closed Wednesday at $16.49.
Fifth Third Bancorp (NASDAQ: FITB) is a top regional banking stock that makes the grade at Jefferies. The company announced last year an 8.3% hike in its quarterly dividend, and it repurchased 8 million shares of stock. It also recently announced the formation of the Payments and Commerce Solutions division. The new division combines existing businesses such as Treasury Management, Commercial and Consumer Card and Currency Processing Solutions with resources specialized in developing innovative commerce-enabled solutions. With it trading at 10.5 times estimated 2016 earnings, the Jefferies team feels the stock is a solid valuation play.
Investors are paid a 2.7% dividend. The Jefferies price target is $21, the same as the consensus figure. The stock closed Wednesday at $20.03 a share.
Regions Financial Corp. (NYSE: RF) is a name that almost every Wall Street firm likes, but it has traded sideways to down since last summer. One positive area for the bank has been that growth in loans came primarily from business lending, which was led by its commercial and industrial segments. Regions also has experienced especially strong growth in auto lending. That was driven by an expanded dealer network and more accepted loans per dealer. The Jefferies analyst point to awful sentiment toward the stock due to bad communication from senior management, but trading at 10.6 times 2016 estimated earnings it is another solid value play.
Regions Financial investors are paid a 2.1% dividend. The Jefferies price target is $10, and the consensus target is at $10.33. The stock closed Wednesday at $9.62 a share.
State Street Corp. (NYSE: STT) is one of the world’s leading providers of financial services to institutional investors, including investment servicing, investment management and investment research and trading. With $28.47 trillion in assets under custody and administration and $2.42 trillion in assets under management as of September 30, 2014, the company is also a huge player in the exchange trade fund (ETF) arena. The Jefferies analysts like this straight-forward business model, which is not hampered by banking.
State Street investors are paid a 1.6% dividend. The Jefferies price target is $96, and the consensus target is lower at $79.97. Shares closed on Wednesday at $76.91.
Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) is another solid top pick on the Jefferies list that really may see a benefit if yields start moving higher late this year. In the meantime, the Jefferies analysts like the bank’s diverse business model, which protects against current low rates. Wells Fargo has slowly, but surely, become one of the biggest mortgage lending companies in the United States, in addition to its normal banking and brokerage businesses. An increase in commercial real estate lending could really boost the bank’s bottom line, which the analysts feel could aid a big return in capital to shareholders. The stock also remains a top Warren Buffett holding.
Wells Fargo shareholders are paid a 2.5% dividend. The Jefferies price target is $60, and the consensus objective is at $56.05. Shares closed Wednesday at $55.33.
In a pricey market, adding financials to a well-rounded growth portfolio makes good sense. They are cheap for the most part on a valuation basis, and should have very little, if any, currency issues as the businesses are essentially domestic.