Published June 25, 2012
| 24/7 Wall St.
Moody’s recent downgrade of 15 of the world’s largest banks, along with JP Morgan Chase & Co.’s (JPM) multibillion trading loss, makes it clear that certain big banks are just not as safe as depositors might have hoped. Still, consumers have to keep their money somewhere.
24/7 Wall St. has compiled a list of the safest banks to help consumers navigate through continued difficult times. The criteria were very strict. We focused on the universe of the money-center banks, super-regional banks and banks with retail branches that encompass several states
24/7 screened for banks with a market capitalization of more than $2 billion. We further screened for banks whose share value is be less than 14 times earnings (P/E ratio). The share price to book value had to be less than 2.0. The bank had to have a minimum return on equity of 8%. To demonstrate how confident a candidate bank is, it had to pay its common holders a dividend yield of 2.0% or higher.
We also only chose financial institutions with an investment grade credit rating by ratings agencies, and Wall St. analysts had to value the bank’s share price above the current price. We also did not consider regional banks with fewer than 100 branches. All but one stock of the banks on our list trade above $10.00 per common share. We also gave preference if Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK-A) is an owner of the common shares.
We remained focused on the top 50 banks by assets with a large retail banking presence, so even though the fiduciary banks of State Street Corporation (STT) and Bank of New York Mellon (BK) fit our initial screening criteria, they were not included. The “problem banks,” which include Citigroup Inc. (C) and Bank of America Corporation (BAC), were excluded even though it would seem nearly impossible that depositors would have any risk with them. We also chose to avoid regional banks located in the troubled Southeast and the entire Pacific Coast, where so many faced financial troubles from housing and lending during and after the recession. We left off some of the large banks that have been involved very recently in mergers and acquisitions. Finally, we absolutely eliminated banks where we had concerns about their viability and survival during another recession.
Here are the seven safest banks in America to deposit money:
1. Wells Fargo & Company
Wells Fargo & Company (WFC) is the undisputed safest bank in America, now that JP Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM) has come under scrutiny — even if Chase has about $1 trillion more in assets. Wells Fargo has branches in almost every state in the United States, with some 6,200 storefront branches and more than 12,000 ATMs. The bank has an asset base of over $1.3 trillion. To prove how safe this bank is, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK-A) owns close to $13 billion worth of the common stock, and that stake keeps rising. The market cap is a whopping $171 billion. The shares trade at less than 9 times earnings and at almost 1.2 times book value. The return on equity is just above 12%, and the bank offers a 2.7% dividend yield to the common holders. While shares trade at around $32.50, Wall St. values the top bank at almost $38.00 per share.
2. JP Morgan Chase & Co.
Despite the media attention surrounding the JP Morgan Chase & Co.’s (JPM) multibillion dollar trading loss, the firm is still in good shape compared to many of its peers. It has a fortresslike balance sheet, with about $2.3 trillion in assets, and CEO Jamie Dimon said the only risk to the bank’s failure is a collision of the earth and moon. Despite the share price decline following the trading loss, the company still has a sizable market cap of $135.17 billion. JP Morgan shares trade at less than 8 times earnings and only about 0.7 times book value. The return on equity is 9.8%, and the company pays a dividend yield of 3.4% on the common stock. While the bank shares are trading at just over $36, analysts value the company at $47 a share.
3. U.S. Bancorp
U.S. Bancorp (USB) is often overlooked as a money-center bank because it is a super-regional located in Minneapolis. It is the fifth-largest commercial bank in the U.S. and caters to millions of consumers. U.S. Bancorp has $341 billion in assets, more than 3,000 branch locations, more than 5,000 ATMs and its operations spread out over 25 states in America. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK-A) owns some 69 million shares worth more than $2.1 billion. The bank’s market cap is $59 billion. It is worth about 10 times earnings and 1.6 times book value. The return on equity is very high at 16%, and it offers a 2.5% dividend yield to the common holders. Shares are trading around $31.50, and Wall St. analysts have a target of about $34.25 on this great safe bank.
4. M&T Bank Corporation
M&T Bank Corporation (MTB) is based in Buffalo, N.Y., and now has more than $79 billion in assets. Excluding any small purchases made recently, M&T had nearly 700 branches, 2,000 ATMs and a presence in eight states. The market cap is $10.12 billion, its P/E ratio is 12.7 and its price-to-book value is only 1.07. M&T has a return on equity of 9.5% and pays out a dividend of 3.5% to common stockholders. The stock is trading just north of $80 a share, but analysts have set a target price of about $90. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A) owns almost 5.4 million M&T Bank common shares worth more than $400 million.
5. PNC Financial Services
PNC Financial Services (PNC) is based in Pittsburgh and has almost $300 billion in assets, with more than 2,500 branches and almost 7,000 ATMs in 14 states. It has a market cap of $31.01 billion, and its stock is valued at 10.6 times earnings and at less than 0.9 times book value. The return on equity is 8.9%, and the company pays out a 2.73% dividend. Shares are trading at under $59, but Wall St. is eyeing a price of $70.50. PNC was even strong enough financially to close its National City acquisition at the end of 2008 when there was so much risk in the financial markets. PNC owns almost one-fourth of the great asset management firm of BlackRock Inc. (BLK).
KeyCorp (KEY) is the one exception to our rule about share prices under $10.00. Its other metrics more than make up for this exception. It has a market cap of just $7.12 billion against some $87 billion in assets. It operates in 14 states throughout the Rocky Mountain states, Northwest, the Great Lakes and the Northeast. It is impressive that KeyCorp is on the list, considering that it is headquartered in Cleveland, where many troubled loans arose. The bank has a return on equity of 9.2% and pays out a 2.7% dividend yield. Shares trade around $7.50 but have a target price of $9.00 from Wall St.
7. BOK Financial Corporation
BOK Financial Corporation (BOKF) is the smallest bank on the list, with a $3.8 billion market value and $26 billion in assets. The bank holding company is based in Tulsa, Ok., and its common branch names in other states are Bank of Albuquerque, Bank of Arizona, Bank of Arkansas, Bank of Kansas City, Bank of Oklahoma, Bank of Texas and Colorado State Bank and Trust. BOK is worth about 12.5 times earnings and is valued at 1.3 times book value. The return on equity is 11%, and it offers a 2.7% dividend yield to the common holders. Shares are trading around $56.00, and Wall St. analysts have a target above $59.00.
-Jon C. Ogg and Samuel Weigley