Is Bank of America Worth More Dead Than Alive?

by Charles Sizemore | October 14, 2013 11:13 am

If there were ever a familiar name left for dead by Wall Street, it would be Bank of America (BAC[1]). It has been nearly seven years since Bank of America’s stock price has seen a new high.

Sure, the stock has more than quadrupled from its early 2009 lows. But nearly all of those gains happened in the second and third quarters of 2009. Bank of America stock has drifted lower in the years that have followed, and BAC’s current price is down by nearly a quarter since early 2010.


The reasons for lack of investor enthusiasm are well known.Banks were at the center of the 2008-09 crisis, and Bank of America’s mortgage portfolio was one of the largest and weakest of any major bank and the most at risk for claims from distressed borrowers. New curbs on proprietary trading and higher capital requirements would be a drag on future earnings growth. And higher interest rates would crimp demand for new loans.

But at what price are all of these negatives baked in?

Let’s take a look at the numbers. Bank of America stock is trading for about 10 times earnings and 0.68 times book value. Using the more stringent metric of price-to-tangible book[3], which excludes intangible assets such as goodwill, we get a multiple of 1.1 times.

This means Bank of America is worth nearly as much dead as alive, and that investors are assigning virtually no value at all to the bank’s continuing operations. That seems a little harsh given the progress the bank has made in cleaning up its loan book and given the nationwide improvement in home prices. The S&P Case-Shiller 20-City Home Price Index is up about 12% during the past 12 months alone.

And what about the bank’s outlook? Bank of America isn’t due to report its third-quarter results until Wednesday, but we can look to the last release for guidance.

Bank of America’s net charge-offs and provisions for credit losses continue to trend down, from Q2 2012’s $3.6 billion and $1.8 billion, respectively, to $2.1 billion and $1.2 billion in the second quarter of 2013. The number of mortgage loans 60-plus days delinquent has been cut by more than half in the past year, from 1.1 million loans in the second quarter of 2012 to 492,000 last quarter. Management expects this to fall to 375,000 by year end.

Overall leverage continues to shrink. And the bank’s Basel III tier 1 capital ratio[4] — at 9.6% as of last quarter — ranks Bank of America ahead of JPMorgan (JPM[5]), U.S. Bancorp (USB[6]), and even Warren Buffett’s favorite, Wells Fargo (WFC[7]).

All of this points to a bank that, while still a mess, is cleaning up its act in a hurry. Meanwhile, Bank of America is showing modest growth in its consumer credit card and auto loan businesses, and its client brokerage assets are up 17% year over year.

With all of this said, what is Bank of America stock worth?

In the eight years preceding the crisis, shares fetched 2 to 5 times tangible book value. Given the bank’s diminished earnings potential in these more sober of days, I would use the lower end of that range as the target. A price-to-tangible-book ratio of 1.5 to 2 would put Bank of America stock’s price at $18.90 to $25.20, giving an upside of 36% to 81% from current prices.

Mohnish Pabrai[8] and Bruce Berkowitz[9] would appear to find value in the stock. Pabrai — a respected value investor known for making concentrated bets — has 22.9% of his funds invested in Bank of America. Berkowitz, manager of the Fairholm Fund and another respected value investor with a reputation for making large, concentrated bets, has 16.9% of his funds invested in Bank of America.

It might not be pretty. But Bank of America stock is dirt-cheap, and it is the largest single holding of two well-respected value investors with phenomenal long-term track records.

This article first appeared on [10]MarketWatch[11].

Charles Lewis Sizemore, CFA, is the chief investment officer of the investment firm Sizemore Capital Management. As of this writing, he had no position in any security mentioned. Click here[12] to receive his FREE 8-part investing series that will not only show you which sectors will soar but also which stocks will deliver the highest returns. The series starts November 5 and includes a FREE copy of his 2014 Macro Trend Profit Report.


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