The S&P 500 closed at a record high today, and the reason why may surprise you…
Bank of America Corp. (BAC) announced that fourth-quarter earnings surged nearly eight-fold to $3.18 billion, or $0.29 per share. This was stronger than the $0.26 EPS estimate from the Street. According to management, the company had a solid fourth quarter due to stronger consumer real estate portfolios, reduced expenses and higher revenues through its consumer and business banking segment. Total revenues came in at $21.49 billion, which also topped the $21.24 billion consensus estimate.
Bank of America’s report came on the heels of announcements from JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), which also beat the Street view by 3.7% and 2% respectively. Both financial stocks continued to climb during trading today.
All of this talk about a comeback has flooded my inbox with questions. Is it time for me to revise my longstanding bearishness against banking stocks? So let’s take a moment to see if I’ve changed my mind.
From where I’m standing, the answer is still “nope”—at least in the case of BAC and JPM. For the past few months, these stocks have appeared to have come roaring back, but I believe that before long they’re going to be whimpering again.
Bank of America may look good at first glance. But the results were distorted by the fact that Bank of America had an $11.6 billion legal charge on its books this time last year. So of course the year-on-year comparisons are going to look great. As for next year, the company is expected to see 48.9% earnings growth, but that’s all from cost cutting measures. And I’m not encouraged that the analyst community has been revising its EPS estimates down over the past 90 days. Meanwhile, BAC is headed towards just 0.5% sales growth. With mixed fundamentals and lackluster buying pressure, BAC is a C-rated hold.
Meanwhile, I don’t feel any more comfortable about JPMorgan, which has been slammed with tens of billions of dollars’ worth of legal fines. Digging into its recent earnings announcement, the company announced that net income declined to $1.30 per share. And looking ahead to next quarter, it’s going to be a similar story: Analysts are calling for a 1.9% drop in sales and a 6.3% drop in earnings. This simply doesn’t meet the stringent standards I have set for my money and I don’t anticipate that I’ll be upgrading JPM to a buy anytime soon. JPM is a hold.
Now, WFC is a B-rated buy right now, but I would take this rating with a grain of salt as well. The fact is that the Fed’s money pump has been artificially inflating banking stocks across the board. Even with unemployment still improving in fits and starts, the Fed seems to be finally realizing that it can only do so much so there has been a lot more taper talk lately. When the Fed does commit to turning off the money pump, I expect the financial sector to get the brunt of the fallout. So I’m not changing my stance on banking stocks anytime soon.