No matter what your risk tolerance and investment goals, there is a bank stock that would be a great fit for your portfolio. Here are my three favorites for 2015, ranging from the stable and consistent to those with the highest risk and highest potential reward.
A compromise between safety and excitement
Recently, an expert from Ernst & Young predicted that 2015 will be an excellent year for IPOs. While many companies would benefit if that prediction came true, my favorite way to play it is with Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS).
Morgan Stanley had an excellent year in 2014: As of the last quarterly report, revenue was up about 12% year over year, with extremely strong results in wealth management and advisory revenue. Wealth management client assets grew by 18%, which should produce a higher income stream going forward, and M&A advisory revenue increased by 43% compared to the same quarter last year. Perhaps the most impressive part of the story is that the company's equity underwriting revenue nearly doubled from last year as a result of 2014's strong IPO activity.
Morgan Stanley shares rose more than 23% last year. If IPO activity and the overall markets stay strong, then I foresee another great year in 2015.
For rock-solid bank stocks, look to the north
Some of the best-run banks you can invest in are the big Canadian banks, and my favorite is TD Bank (NYSE:TD), which was named Money magazine's Best Big Bank for 2014. Over the past decade or so, TD had aggressively expanded its presence in the U.S. with a winning business model and solid fundamentals. Known as "America's Most Convenient Bank," TD has branches that are open late and on the weekends, catering to people who can't do their banking during "banker's hours."
While TD's stock price actually declined slightly in 2014 due to earnings that didn't impress the market, the bank's numbers looked pretty solid. Net income grew by 19% in the past year alone, and there was improvement in return on equity, efficiency ratio, and the tier 1 common ratio.
After TD's poor stock performance in 2014 relative to the rest of the sector, now might be a great time to pick up this solid institution at a great price.
Buy with caution
My favorite of the "risky" banks is Citigroup (NYSE:C), simply because I believe the risk-reward ratio makes sense right now.
There are still some lingering issues from the financial crisis. While the company has done a good job of winding down its Citi Holdings "legacy asset" division, $103 billion in assets remain on the division's balance sheet. This is certainly better than the nearly $300 billion the company was dealing with in 2011, but it's still a lot of money and could erode Citigroup's profits if things go badly again. Citigroup also has significant exposure to emerging (and other international) markets, which creates another type of uncertainty.
In addition, the company is in the middle of a relatively large restructuring, having decided to dismantle its commercial banking operations in 11 foreign markets in order to concentrate on those with the most growth potential. This should be a good move in the long run, but it could be costly in the meantime.
Citigroup's numbers look strong this year, and perhaps the most significant to 2015 is the bank's improved capital ratios. Citigroup is one of the last of the major U.S. banks with a dividend still stuck at a penny per share. But with the company's Basel III supplementary leverage ratio improving from 5.1% to 6% over the past year alone, the company might finally get the go-ahead from regulators to increase the payout.
While the dividend increase is likely to be small, it could go a long way toward boosting investors' confidence in the bank. This would be a tremendous step in finally removing the stain of the financial crisis.
Which is right for you?
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to that question. It depends on your specific investment goals and risk tolerance.
If you want stable, consistent growth and income, a bank like TD might be a good pick. If you want to take a chance at some serious gains and are prepared to take on some risk, Citigroup could be a good New Year's investment. Or, if you want a mix of risk and stability, maybe all three of these stocks belong in your portfolio.