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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bad for Banks, Good for You

People hate banks.  Especially US banks.

In 2008, when President George W. Bush signed into law the biggest corporate bailouts in history, banks became the enemy.  They are retirement killers, staffed by toga-party heathens.  They are social pariahs.  Few mutual fund managers dare to buy them.  And this is what makes them great.

The Frost Report has been recommending bank stocks during every dip in the market since 2008 (which has been a great strategy), and things only look better for the future.

As of Oct 3, 2012, the six largest US lenders - including Bank of America, Citigroup, and JP Morgan - earned a combined $63 billion in profits.  In Q2, Wells Fargo had its most profitable quarter in 160 years.  Despite this, many bank shares are still trading at below book value, and at single-digit PE ratios.  In other words, despite sustained earnings, US banks remain ridiculously cheap.

Enter the complainers.

Wall Street hates regulation.  There is a natural tension between the motives of short-term profit and long-term sustainability.  Without regulation (and sometimes despite it), the creative minds of Wall Street regularly devise new ways to make vast hordes of money before self-destructing.  It is the loathsome job of government to prevent the latter by preventing the former.

When bankers are complaining about downsizing and frugal compensation, complaining about low leverage (which reduces risk, but also the opportunity to profit), complaining about high capital requirements and complaining about trading restrictions, you know that your money is both profitable and safe.

The greater the number of people who live in fear of bank stocks - while those banks continue to earn excellent profits - the better.


"The future looks very dim."

Michael Greenberger, University of Maryland, regarding US Banks