As yet another earnings season gets under way, the big bankers are queuing up to report their Q2 performance. Merrill Lynch reported yesterday. JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) is up today. Capital One (NYSE:COF) releases its numbers tomorrow. Citigroup (NYSE:C) and Wachovia take their turns on Friday. So grab your passbooks and fasten your seat belts, folks. It's going to be a busy week.

Let's start with Capital One. After the news comes out, we'll have time aplenty to dissect it. But in these few hours before we begin obsessing over Capital One's short-term progress, let's take a moment to review what investors think about it as a long-term investment. Our tool in this endeavor: Motley Fool CAPS, where we poll more than 60,000 investors for their views on more than 4,000 companies, Capital One among them. Here's what Fools have to say about it.

Up or down?
More than 500 investors have submitted ratings on Capital One. The verdict: Keep your money in your wallet for now.

Granted, 92% of CAPS investors expect the company to outperform the market, and All-Star investors are almost as enthusiastic (91% approval). But as a general rule, most company ratings on CAPS currently lean heavily toward the "bull" side. Nine votes out of 10? That's only enough to earn a company three stars out of a possible five on CAPS.

Then again, among U.S. credit card companies, three stars is pretty much par for the course:

Credit Card Group

CAPS Rating

American Express (NYSE:AXP)


Bank of America (NYSE:BAC)




Capital One




MasterCard (NYSE:MA)


Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS)


Wall Street vs. Main Street
Wall Street sentiment parallels Main Street on this one -- eight of the nine analysts we track give Capital One the thumbs-up. Which is interesting, when you consider that the company's stock has in fact underperformed the S&P 500 by 32 percentage points over the last 52 weeks.

Bull pitch
The top-rated CAPS pitch for Capital One calls this company "arguably the smartest operator in the credit card business" thanks to "a 'quant' system that helps them make prudent lending decisions that's second to none." Lauding the firm's decision to buy regional banks Hibernia and North Fork to lower its cost of funds, and predicting this will improve Capital One's already 50%-plus operating margins, this investor predicts $8.12 per share in profits this year, which, if correct, would yield a P/E ratio of less than 10.

On the one hand, that sounds pretty good against an industry average P/E north of 15. On the other hand, the consensus of analysts following the stock is that Capital One will earn less than $7 per share this year.

Bear pitch
Capital One bears appear to be an endangered species on CAPS. That said, the few we've spotted are growling that the subprime mortgage fiasco will take a bite out of Capital One's profits. They're also mouthing the perennial (and apparently perennially wrong) fear that at some point, U.S. consumers just have to run out of money and stop buying stuff and putting it on their cards.

Anyone who still wants to make that bet, I'm offering good odds.

Who said that?
To learn the identities of the wise Fools who penned these words, to examine their records (and see whether they know whereof they speak), and to explore the plethora of additional financial data we've put together on the company, just click here.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 608 out of more than 60,000 raters. JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are Income Investor newsletter recommendations. MasterCard is an Inside Value selection. The Fool's disclosure policy defends against Viking hordes.