1 Bank Stock to Buy Today

It isn't often that I feel highly confident about a particular stock. Generally there's some deficiency. Either I don't trust the underlying company's growth prospects, or I think the stock is trading for an unreasonable multiple of income or book value. Indeed, for obvious reasons, it's rare when a stock satisfies both concerns at the same time.

I believe there is one such stock in the market right now that offer investors impressive growth prospects without the premium price tag. It's a well-known leader in its industry, and for a variety of reasons, it's trading under the cloud of an irrational loss of investor confidence -- the operative word here is "irrational."

One big bank that's worth the money
If there's one industry that's currently suffering from a lack of investor confidence, it's the financial industry, and the "too big to fail" banks in particular. The largest of our financial institutions have been under siege since the onset of the financial crisis. The media, including me, has pilloried companies such as Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) , Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) , and Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) on a regular basis. According to the conventional wisdom, which I ascribe to, they made the bed our economy is in, and they must sleep now in it.

From an investor's perspective, and to speak very generally, the concerns are threefold. First, there are regulations coming down the pike that may affect profitability. The best known is the so-called Volcker Rule, which bans banks from using depositors' money to make speculative bets. Second, investors don't trust the quality of bank balance sheets. As I discussed recently with respect to Citigroup, there are billions of dollars in toxic mortgage assets that the largest banks must still recognize as losses. Third, there's widespread concern about the situation in Europe, and the possibility that it may produce another "Lehman-type" moment.

As a result of these concerns, many bank stocks are trading for a fraction of their corresponding book value. The two most notorious are Bank of America and Citigroup, both of which trade for less than half of book value. On the other end of the big-bank spectrum is the famously conservative Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) , which is the only one of the big four to trade above book value. And sandwiched between these extremes is JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) , which sells for a 30% discount to its book value.

To cut to the chase, the latter institution, JPMorgan, is the one I believe presents a rare and potentially lucrative buying opportunity for investors. In addition to the concerns I've mentioned, a multibillion-dollar trading scandal earlier in the year sent shares in the bank plunging more than 20% since the end of March. According to its most recent quarterly filing, losses from the scandal now amount to nearly $6 billion and have left investors wondering whether the bank, famous for managing risk, has lost its touch.

Yet these concerns have overshadowed two important facts. First, despite the trading mishap, the bank is extremely profitable. If you remove the division responsible for the trading losses, for the first half of the year, the bank's other five divisions earned a total of $12.7 billion. Second, and ultimately of more significance, the bank is positioned to dominate its industry going forward. At one time, there were five big investment banks. After Lehman's collapse, however, there are now only four, two of which, Merrill Lynch and Bear Stearns, were swallowed up by Bank of America and JPMorgan, respectively. For JPMorgan and its shareholders, in other words, it's likely that the financial crisis will ultimately turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

The bottom line
Because I write about the financial industry, I understand and appreciate investors' fear about owning its stocks. Yet it's a mistake to paint the entire industry with the same broad brush. Quite simply, I've rarely been as confident in the future prospects of a company as I am in JPMorgan's.

To learn why our financial-sector editor and analyst, Anand Chokkavelu, also believes Bank of America may be flashing a huge "buy" signal, check out our premium investment report on its stock today.

Fool contributor John Maxfield owns shares of Bank of America. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Citigroup. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Goldman Sachs Group and Wells Fargo. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On July 31, 2012, at 10:40 PM, neamakri wrote:

    I'm still waiting for the federal indictments to put guilty bankers into Leavenworth. That's right, the bankers who made liar loans then lied to Fannie and Freddie about them. Then, adding insult to injury, took my income taxes as a bailout.

    WHEN bankers go to prison I will put my hard earned cash into JPM or BAC or WFC.

    Until that happens, investment bankers have congress in their pocket and can do whatever they want, anytime they want, with whoever's money they want. But not with my money.

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