If the stock analysts that cover Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) are right, then shares of the North Carolina-based bank could trade for more than $30 each by the end of next year. At today's price, that equates to a nearly 67% return over an 18-month stretch.
On average, analysts expect Bank of America to earn $1.61 per share in 2016. It would be the bank's best annual performance since the financial crisis of 2008-09, and, if the consensus estimate for the current year plays out, it would follow on the heels of an already dramatic and ongoing turnaround.
Investors should normally take what analysts say with a grain of salt. As my colleague Morgan Housel has observed, the typical stock forecaster has been off by an average of 14.7 percentage points per year since 2000.
But even though analysts leave a lot to be desired when it comes to precision, investors shouldn't let that taint their view of Bank of America's potential fortunes. As we saw in the latest quarter, the nation's second biggest bank by assets has either just emerged from under its financial crisis-induced cloud or is on the precipice of imminently doing so.
There are multiple statistics one can cite in support of this. Bank of America's pre-tax earnings in the second quarter were higher than they've been since the crisis. Its return on assets is abutting the 1% threshold that has long distinguished the nation's most profitable lenders. Its battle against oppressive legal charges is finally wrapping up. And its egregiously bloated expense base seems to have been reined in as well.
None of these points guarantee anything. However, as I've said before, when you consider Bank of America's experience in the wake of former downturns -- the mid-1980s, specifically -- then it seems possible, if not probable, that the bank will not only emerge from its seven-year malaise, but that it will do so abruptly and decisively.
This has the potential to be truer today than it was 30 years ago, when three consecutive annual losses at Bank of America were followed by a torrent of record earnings. I say that because the $2.2 trillion lending giant will emerge from the latest crisis with its coast-to-coast consumer banking franchise intact and also with the 2008 addition of Merrill Lynch's thundering herd of financial advisors.
At least in my opinion, in turn, it seems reasonable to conclude that Bank of America could meet or exceed the consensus estimate for 2016. It if does so, and assuming that its shares trade for 20 times earnings, which is lower than the average stock on the S&P 500, then its share price will comfortably exceed $30 per share.