JPMorgan's (NYSE:JPM) stock return this year is nothing to get excited about: roughly flat for 2014 (and competitors didn't do much better).
Wall Street banks were clearly not investors' favorites in 2014.
However, JPMorgan's paltry stock return might not be justified. JPMorgan has a well-performing consumer bank, a strong market position in investment banking, settled with the DOJ over mortgage-backed securities at the end of last year, and has a reasonable book valuation. Let's take a look and see if there's some value here.
Ahead of the pack
The mortgage settlement drama that culminated this year in Citigroup and Bank of America shelling out billions of dollars to settle accusations of improper mortgage practices, has done its part in frightening off investors and making them look for investments outside the banking sector.
JPMorgan, in fact, already settled with the Department of Justice, some State Attorneys-General, the Federal Deposit Insurance, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and the National Credit Union Administration in November 2013 over allegations of selling substandard residential mortgage-backed securities. The result: JPMorgan paid a massive $13 billion to lay those accusations to rest once and for all.
JPMorgan settled as the first large bank with the DOJ and presented shareholders with a landmark settlement that should have cleared the way for optimism about the bank. However, JPMorgan's chief executive officer, Jamie Dimon, continues to fight an uphill battle for the love of investors, who still don't like financial companies in general as much as they used to.
Strong deposit growth
As much as JPMorgan and other Wall Street banks are understood as trading enterprises or investment managers, the bank is particularly strong in one of its core functions: Attracting deposits.
Strong deposit growth has two vital implications: First, it signals that depositors trust the bank with their money, which is naturally a good thing, and it underscores JPMorgan's value as a consumer banking franchise. Secondly, deposit growth, at its core, is the basis for healthy business growth and loan origination, another core banking function.
In the third quarter of 2013, for instance, JPMorgan reported average deposits of $492.0 billion in its Consumer and Community Banking unit, solid growth compared to $456.9 billion in the year ago quarter. In other words: JPMorgan increased its deposit base by almost 8% year over year, which is a respectable accomplishment for a bank its size.
Client investment assets saw another healthy year-over-year increase, too, which further attests to JPMorgan's strength in attracting capital: Client assets rose 16% over last year to $207.8 billion.
Business lending is doing well for JPMorgan with positive trends being evident in a variety of metrics.
JPMorgan's loan originations in Business Banking increased to $1.6 billion in the third quarter, up 27% year over year, and average Business Banking loan balances grew from $18.6 billion last year to $19.5 billion in the third quarter.
Both JPMorgan's deposit and loan growth highlight a healthy core banking business, that has a lot of potential to deliver value for customers and shareholders in an economic upswing that could lead to even higher deposit and loan growth rates.
Solid market position in investment banking
Investment banks are ranked regularly in terms of who brings in the most fees in a variety of disciplines. High league rankings, therefore, give investors a feel about a bank's competitive fit to rake in billions of fees as top underwriters or top M&A advisors.
Since JPMorgan held the highest rank in both 2013 and in 2014 (YTD) in "Global Investment Banking fees" with a market share of 8.5% and 8% respectively, shareholders have proof that its investment banking division is indeed top of the class.
Looking a little cheap?
And what's more, the bank isn't even particularly expensive.
At just 1.04 times book value, JPMorgan might be more expensive than Citigroup, which trades at 0.77 times book value or Bank of America, which fetches a book value multiple of 0.80 times, but its demonstrated strong underlying growth and its leading market position in investment banking could certainly justify a higher valuation down the road. Oh, and don't forget the 2.7% dividend yield (per S&P Capital IQ).
Though investors might still dislike banks in general due to a combination of headline-grabbing settlements, a bad reputation as a result of the financial crisis and occasionally spectacular hacker attacks, JPMorgan's fundamentals certainly are intact and could justify a meaningfully higher valuation in the years ahead.