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Goldman Who? Small Bank Stocks to Own

Stocks in this article: GABC BMRC NKSH

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. ( TheStreet) -- German American Bancorp (GABC - Get Report) and Bank of Marin Bancorp (BMRC - Get Report) probably haven't been considered by investors who scooped up financial firms JPMorgan Chase (JPM - Get Report) and Goldman Sachs (GS - Get Report) on the cheap.

Although the largest banks, such as JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo (WFC), Bank of America (BAC) and Citigroup (C), have posted stellar returns since financial stocks bottomed March 6, some small community banks have given them a run for their money as long-term investments. Ratings has "buy" recommendations for 32 of 439 bank holding companies. Most are unknown, including German American Bancorp and Bank of Marin Bancorp. Three other obscure picks are National Bankshares (NKSH - Get Report), Norwood Financial Corp. (NWFL - Get Report) and First of Long Island Corp. (FLIC - Get Report).

GRAPHIC: Interactive Bank Failure Map.

Our Five Bank-Stock Picks

An analysis of the recommended bank stocks shows that most had strong capital ratios and credit quality as of March 31, as well as low ratios of net charge-offs (loan losses) to average loans during the first quarter of 2009 and for all of last year.

We have taken a very conservative approach in narrowing the list to five bank holding companies with the highest 2008 returns on average assets that also met the following criteria:

1. Price-to-tangible-book-value ratio of less than 2. Tangible book value is defined as total equity capital minus goodwill and other intangibles, such as loan-servicing rights.

2. Net charge-off ratios of less than 1 for 2008 and the first quarter of 2009.

3. Nonperforming assets and nonperforming loan ratios of under 1%.

The following table includes total returns:

Price to Tangible Book
Dividend Yield
Closing Price - 3/6/09
Closing Price - 7/28/09
Total Return from 3/6/09
1 Year Total Return
National Bankshares, Inc.
Norwood Financial Corp.
First of Long Island Corp.
Glen Head
Bank of Marin Bancorp
German American Bancorp
Sources: Yield and Price-to-tangible-Book ratios - SNL Financial.
Stock returns - Bloomberg.

The group of five haven't matched their larger rivals' incredible run-up from the March 6 bottom. But a glance at one-year returns is an eye opener, as all have had strong returns when many bank stocks were clobbered.

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