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There's a new banking behemoth sitting on top of the world. At the beginning of last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ) has officially surpassed Industrial & Commercial Bank of China as the world's largest bank by market capitalization -- a crown formerly held by Citigroup (NYSE: C ) until the collapse of its stock in 2007.
This got me thinking: When bank analysts normally discuss relative bank sizes, they're referring to the balance sheet -- that is, the cumulative value of assets. But there are other metrics that denote size as well. With this in mind, I've drawn up the following table showing the respective sizes of the four largest banks on the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) -- the two previously mentioned plus Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) -- according to four variables: assets, market capitalization, deposits, and capital.
JPMorgan takes top honors with respect to assets, deposits, and capital. To say that the past five years have served as an extraordinary opportunity for the New York-based megabank would be an egregious understatement.
Beyond the fact that two of its formerly robust competitors, Bank of America and Citigroup, were forced to retrench in the face of mounting losses from the financial crisis, JPMorgan itself adroitly exploited the turmoil for its own benefit. In March 2008, it acquired Bear Stearns for pennies on the dollar, giving it access to one of the best primary brokerage operations on Wall Street. And six months later, it took over Washington Mutual, the nation's largest savings and loan association with an extensive branch network centered on the West Coast.
Wells Fargo nevertheless surpasses JPMorgan, as well as all other banks in the world for that matter, in terms of market capitalization. The explanation is straightforward: Because investors perceive it to be more stable and profitable, they've bid up its valuation multiple to 1.9 times tangible book value. JPMorgan, meanwhile, trades for 1.4 times the same metric.
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