Banking & Finance

Ahead of Earnings, Which Bank Stock Is Cheapest?

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The “official” beginning of the new earnings season kicks off after markets close on Wednesday when Alcoa tells its story for the first quarter of 2015. The following week we will hear from the big U.S. banks, so now seems like a good time to check the five largest U.S. banks for a value opportunity.

One thing we know for sure is that investment banking fees are weak. Globally these fees came in at their lowest level in three years. Initial public offerings were down about 50% in the United States for the quarter and dropped 36% globally.

Home buying and refinancing has been slow in the first quarter as well, and that will weigh on mortgage lending. Fixed income revenues could also experience some pressure.

Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) is the largest bank in the U.S. by market cap. The consensus estimate for the first quarter calls for earnings per share (EPS) of $0.98 on revenues of $21.26 billion. The EPS estimate is lower than the $1.05 the bank earned in the first quarter of 2014. Wells Fargo’s forward price-to-earnings (P/E) estimate is 11.89 and the price-to-book ratio is 1.69. The consensus price target on the stock is $57.01, and based on Monday’s closing price of $54.08, the implied gain is about 5.4%.

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JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) has been fighting calls to break itself into pieces. Legal expenses have weighed on shares and low interest rates and lack of volatility have weighed on revenues. New capital requirements have also pinched profits. The consensus EPS estimate for the first quarter is $1.38, a dime more than in the same period a year ago. Revenues are projected at $24.4 billion. The forward P/E ratio is 9.36 and the price-to-book ratio is 1.06. The consensus price target is $68.86, and shares closed at $60.47 on Monday, implying a potential gain of about 13.9%.

Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) has managed to cut its massive legal costs, but it has depended on other cost cuts to maintain profitability. Trading profits turned to losses last quarter and that may continue. The consensus estimate calls for EPS of $0.30 on revenues of $21.51 billion, well above the $0.05 loss in the year ago quarter. Forward P/E is 9.46 and price-to-book ratio is 0.73. Shares closed most recently at $15.51, compared with a consensus price target of $18.43. The potential gain on the stock is about 18.8%.

Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C), like Bank of America and J.P. Morgan, has put a large piece of its legal liabilities behind it, and it may be the cheapest of the big banks to own now. At least that is what UBS analysts think. The consensus EPS estimate is $1.38, $0.15 higher than earnings in the first quarter of 2014. Revenues are expected to total $78.05 billion. The forward P/E is just 8.82 and the price-to-book ratio is 0.78. The consensus price target is $61.58, implying a potential gain of more than 19% based on Monday’s closing price of $51.62.

The Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS) posted profits for the fourth quarter and the full 2014 fiscal year largely on the strength of lower non-compensation expenses. Litigation expenses and impairment charges also fell. But cutting costs can only take a bank so far. The consensus EPS estimate calls for $4.16, on revenues of $9.23 billion. The stock’s forward P/E is 10.35 and the price-to-book ratio is 1.18. The consensus target price is $196.24, and shares closed at $192.05 on Monday. The implied gain is about 2.1%.

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