Financial stocks have been an absolute mess in 2020. The leading sector exchange-traded fund, the Financial Select Sector SPDR ETF (NYSEARCA:XLF), is down 24% year-to-date. That’s the latest fall in what’s been a horrible run for the ETF. The XLF’s share price has been flat since 2001 — for nearly 20 years, its only return has come from dividends. Similarly, shares remain well below their 2007 housing bubble peak.
With that in mind, many investors might decide to never touch financial stocks again. But that’d be the wrong reaction. The financials are not a monolith — there’s a lot more there than just banks and insurance companies. In this article, I’ll show you some financial stocks that are still piling up gains even during the novel coronavirus.
More broadly, even the banks might come back far more quickly than the market is expecting. JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) and Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) kicked off the sector’s earnings this morning. JPM beat earnings and revenue expectations, and JPM stock is now climbing. Wells Fargo didn’t get so lucky. The company missed earnings and revenue estimates and slashed its dividend more than investors were expecting.
If nothing else, banks have fallen far enough that they reflect the recession that the economy currently faces. That’s a sharp difference from the stock market as a whole, which has been resolutely ignoring the sharp rise in unemployment and fall in corporate earnings.
As such, it seems either financial stocks must catch up to the market, or that the rest of the stock market is set to dive. In any case, with the financial stocks starting to announce second-quarter earnings, here are five to have on your radar:
- Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS)
- Bank Of America (NYSE:BAC)
- BlackRock (NYSE:BLK)
- Nasdaq (NASDAQ:NDAQ)
- Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A, NYSE:BRK.B)
Financial Stocks: Goldman Sachs (GS)
Goldman Sachs has been one of the country’s best-performing big banks. The stock is only down a few percent over the past year. And unlike other leading financials, GS stock has actually recovered most of its losses from the March crash. So what’s going on here?
Remember that while Goldman is moving into consumer finance, it’s still primarily an investment bank. And the investment sphere is soaring. Elevated market volatility is good for trading volume and related profits there. The booming stock market, particularly in tech, is pumping the gas for the initial public offering space. Goldman, as the underwriter, gets a big cut of fees as more companies look to go public.
And Goldman remains a value as well. It trades for less than 11x its average recent earnings. It also sells for less than book value, which usually marks a compelling price for a highly respected national banking brand. And, unlike most of the peers, Goldman Sachs almost never loses money. Even during the financial crisis, it managed to make money by betting against mortgages as everyone else was on the wrong side of the trade.
I expect the bank to prosper again during this latest economic turbulence.
Bank Of America (BAC)
Bank of America finds itself in an interesting place within the banking industry. Of the big national banks, Bank of America doesn’t really have a calling card. The others have a clear distinction. JPMorgan Chase is the highest-quality one. Wells Fargo is the cheap one. Goldman Sachs is the strongest investment bank. And so on. But what is Bank of America’s specialty?
As a result of this identity crisis, BAC stock has languished in recent years. However, after enough time lagging the market, it may be Bank of America’s turn to shine. The bank has quietly reshaped itself into a strong institution. Through disciplined management, it has recovered from its ill-advised merger spree a decade ago. Costs are now in line, and its deposit franchise is picking up again as well.
While Bank of America may not be a standout bank in many categories, it’s above average in quite a few. Its tech department is ahead of the curve on mobile banking. The credit card division has a strong and well-liked line of products. And the bank has avoided major scandals. Its dividend also appears to be on reasonably solid footing despite the economic crisis.
All in all, there’s quite a bit to like about Bank of America heading into this earnings report.
Financial Stocks: BlackRock (BLK)
When you think of financials, you probably think of banks and maybe insurance. However, there’s more to the category than that. In fact, asset manager BlackRock is now the sixth-largest holding in the XLF ETF. It’s also been one of the best performers in its sector — BlackRock stock is up 15% over the past year while almost all of the big banks have lost value.
What should you be watching with BlackRock now? For one, it will be fascinating to see how its funds held up last quarter. It’s no secret that the investing world is rapidly shifting to the sort of passive ETFs that BlackRock offers. It and Vanguard have been gobbling up capital from active mutual funds and hedge funds. Still, the market volatility could have shaken usual patterns.
On top of that, a major BlackRock owner, PNC Financial Services (NYSE:PNC), just dumped its $14 billion stake in BlackRock. What’s worse, PNC didn’t have any clear reason for selling — it raised the cash and is now being “patient” with the funds rather than using them for any specific purpose. This BlackRock earnings report should be informative. Did PNC know of something coming up, or did it just panic along with the general market as things went crazy earlier this year? We’ll find out soon.
Asset managers aren’t the only non-traditional banking or insurance firms in the financials sector. The stock exchanges themselves are becoming a bigger part of the equation. The CME (NASDAQ:CME) has grown to be one of the largest holdings in the financial sector ETF. And, given the absolute boom in tech stocks, Nasdaq, the parent of the Nasdaq Exchange, could soon follow in its footsteps.
Unlike the banks, NDAQ stock continues to advance — shares hit new all-time highs this past week. This makes sense. As I recently explained, Nasdaq has multiple growing revenue streams.
It makes money off trading activity, as you’d expect. But there’s much more to the picture — in fact, none of Nasdaq’s four lines of business account for more than 40% of its overall revenues. In addition to trading, two main sources of revenues are corporate services and data. Corporate services are going great. Think of when a new biotech or software firm wants to go public. It’s going to list on the Nasdaq, and it’s going to pay some fat fees for the privilege.
Nasdaq is enjoying robust gains in corporate services thanks to the hot market. However, it’s also riding a longer growth wave. That’s over in the data sales. Nasdaq collects tons of proprietary information as everyone trades on its platform. In turn, Nasdaq can sell this information to hedge funds, algo trading shops and other high-powered financial institutions. As the war for better algorithmic trading advances, Nasdaq is poised to collect more and more fees selling data to the various shops competing against each other.
Even at an all-time high stock price, Nasdaq still sells for only 21x forward earnings. That’s reasonable for a company that has consistently grown earnings at a double-digit rate and is sailing with several powerful tailwinds right now.
Financial Stocks: Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A, BRK.B)
You might be wondering what Warren Buffett’s conglomerate is doing on a list of financial stocks. It is, however, the largest individual company in the financials sector, and currently accounts for almost 14% of the entire XLF ETF. Why’s that? For one, Berkshire’s core business is insurance. And for another, Berkshire’s investment portfolio is loaded with big banks — by buying Berkshire, you also get a major holding in several other stocks on this list.
Not surprisingly, BRK.B stock has traded terribly in 2020. People view Buffett as over-the-hill and Berkshire as having lost its touch. And sure, there are things to complain about. Berkshire made a poorly timed move dumping the airline stocks near the lows a few months ago. And all those positions in the big banks aren’t doing much for Berkshire either.
However, all this criticism is missing two key points. One, Buffett has built a huge cash hoard which he will put to work on favorable terms as the recession drags on. We saw the first signs of that this past week as Berkshire invested $10 billion in the distressed natural gas pipeline industry, likely scoring a great deal.
Second, Berkshire’s investment in banks and other underperforming stocks is shrinking proportionally by the day. That’s because Berkshire now has nearly $100 billion of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) stock, which constitutes more than 20% of its entire market capitalization. Since Berkshire owns nearly 250 million shares of Apple, it makes another billion dollars of profit with every $4 that AAPL stock goes up.
Needless to say, Berkshire is having a great quarter. The stock price should catch up in due time.
Ian Bezek has written more than 1,000 articles for InvestorPlace.com and Seeking Alpha. He also worked as a Junior Analyst for Kerrisdale Capital, a $300 million New York City-based hedge fund. You can reach him on Twitter at @irbezek. At the time of this writing, he owned GS, WFC, BRK.B and NDAQ stock.