Like several other major U.S. banks, Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) has battled back from the financial crisis, and is just now focusing on its dividend again. However, even after an increase in 2014, the bank pays just $0.05 per quarter, far from the $0.64 quarterly payout of 2007, and translating to a yield of just 1.63% at the current share price. With that in mind, here are three bank stocks dividend-focused investors should consider instead.
The best-run bank in the U.S.
U.S. Bancorp (NYSE:USB) just had its best year ever in terms of revenue and earnings, which is even more impressive when you consider 2015's challenging global economy and persistent low interest rates.
The bank is growing impressively -- total loans grew by 4.2%, including 9% growth in commercial lending and 13% in auto lending. On the other side of things, deposits grew by nearly 7%, including 11.4% growth in low-cost deposits.
U.S. Bancorp is consistently the most efficient and profitable big bank in the U.S., and outperformed its peers again in 2015. In fact, you can see from the following chart how this has consistently been the case.
There is no reason to believe the excellent performance won't continue in 2016. The bank has renewed its emphasis on efficiency and recently added a potentially lucrative credit card co-branding deal with Fidelity to its product portfolio.
The bank admittedly trades for the highest valuation of the three mentioned here, but you get what you pay for. Shareholders are rewarded with a 2.5% dividend yield that should continue to grow over the years.
Buffett's favorite bank
Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) has been one of Warren Buffett's favorite banks for some time now. In fact, Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B) owns a 9.2% stake in Wells Fargo worth more than $23 billion. And it's easy to see why.
Not only is Wells Fargo consistently among the most profitable of the biggest U.S. banks, but the bank has a strong history of smart risk management and efficient operations. In fact, the only big bank that beats Wells Fargo in terms of ROE, ROA, and efficiency on a regular basis is U.S. Bancorp, as you can see in the chart above, and considering the difference in valuation, Wells Fargo looks like a bargain.
Despite its status as the largest U.S. bank by market capitalization, Wells Fargo is still producing some impressive growth. For 2015, the bank's loan portfolio grew by 7%, including record auto originations that grew 8% year-over-year and 9% growth in credit card lending, fueled by 2.7 million newly issued credit cards. Wells Fargo was the only big bank to significantly increase its revenue in 2015, despite the persistent low-interest environment, which makes it difficult for banks to make money.
As far as the dividend goes, Wells Fargo pays a respectable 3.1% yield as of this writing. Bank dividends are unfortunately dependent on government approval, so there's no guarantee of future dividend performance, but I'm as confident in Wells Fargo's future as a dividend stock as I am in any other bank stock.
For really strong bank dividends, look to the north
I've been a fan of Canadian banks for quite some time. Whereas the U.S. has been through 14 separate banking crises in the past 180 years, Canadian banks have been through just two -- and both were in the 1830s. Canadian banks simply have a superior record of risk management.
My favorite Canadian bank is Toronto-Dominion Bank (NYSE:TD), known to most Americans as TD Bank. Not only does TD have a low-risk business model, but the bank has produced some impressive growth over the past few decades. TD has expanded aggressively into the United States through acquisitions as well as organic growth, and continues to do so -- however, with smaller and more efficient branches.
To illustrate the benefits of the low-risk banking business model, take a look at TD's earnings history (the blue line in the following chart). Notice how it is much steadier than the rest -- a particularly impressive fact given that TD's earnings are susceptible to currency fluctuations and the others are not.
While other banks are cutting back on their physical presence, TD is doing the opposite and emphasizing good old-fashioned customer service. Known as "America's Most Convenient Bank", TD branches are open later at night and on weekends, and the bank prides itself on letting its customers deal with real, live human beings.
And it seems to be working. TD has been able to increase its dividend at a 12% annualized rate over the past 15 years, and currently yields 3.8%. Keep in mind that TD pays its dividends in Canadian dollars, so they tend to fluctuate more than those of peers -- but this isn't too much of a downside given the company's steady history.
One important final thought about B of A's dividend
Unless you need the dividends from your portfolio for current income, Bank of America's relatively low dividend shouldn't worry you too much. The bank currently trades for just 79% of its tangible book value, and management has wisely chosen to emphasize share buybacks over dividend increases.
This means that the bank can essentially buy its own assets for 21% less than they are worth, thereby creating instant value for shareholders. So even if Bank of America can raise its dividend to a level that would attract income investors, continuing to funnel billions in profits into buying back stock is the best use of capital from a long-term perspective.