Is JPMorgan Still a Buy?

Meena is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) has rallied from its lows after the London Whale incident and is now up 18% so far in 2012, but is still short of its high for the year above $46. In the bank’s 10-Q for the third quarter of the year, total net revenue was up 6% from the same period in 2011 and rose 13% on a q/q basis (though the second quarter may have suffered from London Whale losses; JPMorgan Chase’s third quarter had lower net revenue than Q1). Earnings have been even better: Net income for the quarter was higher than in any of the four previous quarters, and up 34% from a year earlier. Book value also crawled upward, and as more time passes we think that we don’t need to worry as much about a catastrophic fall in the prices of the bank’s assets.

With the stock’s price hesitating to match the growth of its business, JPMorgan Chase now trades at 9 times trailing earnings and 8 times consensus earnings for 2013. The banking industry as a whole carries fairly low multiples as the market worries about a weak European and global economy as well as the potential for more regulation, but certainly on an absolute basis that is low enough to be worth considering. The bank’s P/B ratio is 0.8, so it still offers a considerable discount to the book value of its assets -- again, something that we like to see as value investors. The dividend yield of 2.8% is not extremely high, but it’s higher than at many other American banks and certainly welcome.

Lansdowne Partners, a large European hedge fund managed by Sir Paul Ruddock and former Harvard Management employee Steve Heinz, is a fan of JPMorgan. At 18 million shares, it was the largest position by market value in the fund’s 13F portfolio for the second quarter of 2012 (find more of Lansdowne Partners' favorite stocks). John Griffin’s Blue Ridge Capital (Griffin had previously been legendary investor Julian Robertson’s right-hand man at Tiger Management) reported a position of 6.1 million shares at the end of June (see more stocks that this Tiger Cub liked).

JPMorgan’s peers include Citigroup (NYSE: C), Bank of America (NYSE: BAC), Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC), and Barclays (NYSE: BCS), other “big banks,” with only Barclays posting a market capitalization under $100 billion. We’d been bullish on Bank of America earlier this year, but we think that trade has played itself out with the stock up 24% in the last three months and now at 10 times forward earnings estimates. It still trades at only half of its book value, but doesn’t seem to be as capable as JPMorgan at generating income. Citigroup is another stock we’d liked, though it too has been up recently, and it may be time for investors to sell. Its forward P/E is 8, and its P/B is 0.6 -- not much different from JPMorgan, and we think that the latter merits a premium to its peer. With Citigroup’s revenue and earnings down last quarter versus a year ago, JPMorgan looks like a better buy.

Wells Fargo, the “safe bank,” is a tougher call; we do think that it should in turn have a price premium relative to JPMorgan, but it trades at 1.2 times book value and at a slightly higher forward earnings multiple. The two banks’ recent growth rates have been about in line as well. There’s really not much more to say than that JPMorgan probably has more upside, but also more downside. Barclays is facing a good deal of uncertainty due to its culpability in the LIBOR scandal, but possibly poor sentiment from investors as well. Its P/B of 0.5 and forward P/E of 6 are the lowest of this peer group, but investors should examine the company more closely to see what mix of those two explanations is responsible for the quantitatively low pricing.

We wouldn’t feel quite as safe owning JPMorgan as we would Wells Fargo, but we think that it offers a slightly better value particularly on a book basis. An investor could easily justify picking either of these two stocks based on their individual preferences and the current makeup of their portfolio.


This article is written by Matt Doiron and edited by Meena Krishnamsetty. Meena has a long position in Citigroup. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America, Citigroup Inc , JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Wells Fargo & Company. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Wells Fargo & Company. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.If you have questions about this post or the Fool’s blog network, click here for information.

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