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BB&T, SunTrust Upgraded At Credit Suisse

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Credit Suisse lifted its view on the regional bank industry on Wednesday to the equivalent of a buy, specifically upgrading BB&T (BBT - Get Report) to neutral and SunTrust Banks (STI - Get Report) to outperform.

The drivers for the call are the attractive Southeast U.S. markets both BB&T and SunTrust are located in, the likelihood that consumer loan losses in the region will recover faster than in other parts of the country, and the potential for M&A in the sector.

The upgrades follow other bullish calls on the banks this week, including an upgrade of BB&T by Citi Investment Research on Tuesday.

Credit Suisse analyst Craig Siegenthaler says in the research note that investors should buy the regional banks before the fourth-quarter reporting season begins. Year-end results at the banks tend to be messy and inclusive of many special items that are incrementally negative for earnings.

"As we believe nonperforming assets, net charge-offs and provisions will steadily improve throughout 2010, and that 13 of our 15 covered companies will not need additional capital (except with early TARP repayment), we are buyers before the fourth quarter kitchen sink results in mid-January," Siegenthaler writes in the note. "The quarterly results will bring improved EPS visibility following the peak in provisions."

Siegenthaler expects loan loss provisions to "peak" this quarter with banks lowering the amount of reserve building next year, specifically as nonperforming loans also peak in the first half of the year.

He expects bank stocks to return to "historical valuation levels" of 11-13 times forward earnings per share by mid-2012, giving the average stock a 75% potential upside over the next three years. According to Siegenthaler, fiscal 2013 will be the first year that banks are able to return to so-called normalized earnings.

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