Financial institutions are getting caught in the downdraft created by the ongoing U.S.-China trade tensions. If trading activity slows, banks have fewer business deals to work on, hurting revenues. Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), which fell 4% last week, is set to erase the post-earnings rally that continued after its earnings report posted in April. At a recent price of $28.40, should investors consider BAC stock?
Bank of America reported first-quarter earnings of 70 cents, up 13% from last year but adding to its 27% CAGR since Q1 2015. Its operating leverage fell to 4%, while its share count dropped 7% to 9.8 billion.
Expect management to continue its shareholder-friendly moves over the long-term. If investors view trade tensions as noise, then the stock’s recent dip of around 5.4% in the last month created another entry point for investors.
Bank of America, like other banks, is investing heavily on its own business to gain operating leverage. It will increase spending in technology/digitization by 10% this year. Its physical delivery network expanded as it added 31 financial centers in new and existing markets in the last 12 months. These investments are already having a positive impact on the business. It now has 37 million active digital banking users, compared to 32 million in Q1 2016. Total payments topped $705 billion, with non-digital growing 3% year-over-year and digital up 8%. With each digital transaction displacing the traditional ones, Bank of America is saving on operating costs.
The growth in mobile channel usage and digital deposit transactions all point to the bank becoming an online bank giant. And while the growth in loans and leases may slow due to macro issues, Bank of America is building a leaner operation to grow profits.
First-Quarter By the Numbers
Bank of America’s client balances grew 4% while the average deposit size increased 5%. GWIM now has assets under management of $1.1 trillion. The company bought back $6.3 billion in shares and paid out $1.5 billion in dividends. The stock’s dividend yields 2.12%. This is below Citigroup’s (NYSE:C) 2.77% and Wells Fargo & Company’s (NYSE:WFC) 3.94%. Overall, it returned 112% of net income to common shareholders.
BAC stock is more attractive than Wells Fargo because the latter still has the account fraud scandal controversy to deal with.
Rate Hikes on Pause
The Fed’s pause on rate hikes is another negative headwind that investors should consider despite the strong quarterly report from Bank of America. Without rates rising, the growth in income from interest rate spreads will slow. Still, Bank of America’s net interest income grew 5% year-over-year by $0.6 billion. It benefited from past rate hikes and loan and deposit growth. This was partially offset by loan spread compression.
Steady Non-performing loans, consumer and commercial net charge-offs in the first quarter could worsen if the U.S. economy worsens. For now, trade war tensions are unlikely to hurt the economy, but investors consider an escalation in tariff levels as a potential risk for BAC stock.
Only nine analysts cover Bank of America stock and have an average price target of $35.33 (according to Tipranks). Conversely, investors could use a price-to-earnings multiple valuation model to determine the fair value of BAC stock. This involves comparing its value with Citi, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan (NYSE:JPM) and Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS). With this model, the fair value of ~$30, giving an upside of 6%.
Investors could instead choose WFC stock, whose P/E of 10X is similar to that of BAC stock. Citi’s P/E is 9.5 times and its dividend yield is higher. Yet investors chose to sell the stock, too, by 4.2% in the week and 7.5% lower in the month. That is more than the drop in BAC stock.
Trade tensions will dominate the headlines and move BAC stock in either direction. But Bank of America demonstrated its transformation to digital banking is paying off regardless of the trade war stories.
As of this writing, Chris Lau did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.