When Citi Downgraded Bank of America, Did It Downgrade Itself Too?

Print Email

When major bank analysts at one bank downgrade the stock (or stocks) of competitors, it has long been considered by some investors that perhaps that analyst is indirectly downgrading its own bank. So when Citigroup’s Keith Horowitz downgraded shares of rival Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC), does it mean that the analyst is indirectly downgrading Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) in the same call?

Before thinking this is a serious stretch, let’s consider where the banking sector is and how it has been broken down. Both Bank of America and Citigroup were trading at the biggest discounts to book value of the major money center banks, while JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo were at big premiums. Both Bank of America and Citigroup used to be Dow Jones Industrial Average stocks, only to get booted out of the index.

When Horowitz downgraded Bank of America, it was to Neutral from Buy, and the price target is $25 for the stock. The call is also about two weeks ahead of the banking sector’s earnings report for the first quarter. Horowitz cited Bank of America’s valuation and rally after almost a 50% gain in six months and with its shares having outperformed other large money center banks.

One key issue that was brought up is that the value gap between Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) seems to have tightened enough and that much of the good news now looks priced in. In recent months, Bank of America has said that higher interest rates would help its main operations. The promise of lower regulation for banks under the Trump administration also has helped to contribute to the major gains seen in the banking sector. Even the expected economic improvement was said to be reflected in Bank of America shares at the current price.

What also stood out is that Bank of America’s stock was last seen up 7% year to date. That is up from a 2% gain for JPMorgan and a gain of almost 1% for Citigroup. Now look at the 77% gain for Bank of America versus the performance from a year ago in rivals: Citigroup is up 43% and JPMorgan is up 51%.

Book values are now becoming a tad outdated as the last book values were as of December 31, 2016. On a comparison to then, Bank of America’s price to book value ratio is now 1.00, after having been trading at a handy discount for years. JPMorgan is valued at 1.37 times its 2016 year-end book value, while Citigroup is still valued at a deeply discounted 0.82 times book value.

Another key issue to consider is that Bank of America’s price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio is 12.8 times this year’s expected earnings per share. The same P/E ratio is 13.3 for JPMorgan, and Citigroup is valued at 11.5 times expected earnings per share.

As far as how the bank stocks reacted all on their own, Bank of America’s stock was down just 0.5% at $23.47. JPMorgan shares were actually up 0.3% at $87.32.

Citigroup’s stock price was down just three cents at $59.65 late on Tuesday. Perhaps Horowitz’s downgrade wasn’t pointing the finger at anything more than Bank of America.