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Bank of America - A Play for the Recovery

Stocks in this article: C BAC WFC JPM

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - Among TheStreet's 10 Cheapest Bank Stocks for 2011 , Bank of America (BAC) stands out as a low-risk play among actively-traded bank stocks.

While all four of the nation's largest holding companies -- which also include JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Citigroup (C) and Wells Fargo (WFC) -- are trading at historically low levels when looking at forward price-to-earnings ratios, Bank of America stands out because it trades at just 1.1 times tangible book value, and while Citigroup is cheaper at 0.9 times book, its shares are facing the overhang of the industry bailout, as the U.S. Treasury continues selling its stake in the company left over from the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP.

All of the "big four" should continue to enjoy a boost of earnings over the next several quarters, since all got themselves into an over-reserved position, which was the only logical way to go in the midst of the credit meltdown. The release of loan loss reserves was the major theme for second-quarter earnings.

Bank of America's forward price-to-earnings ratio of 8.6, based on the consensus earnings projection of $1.54 a share for 2011 among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, looks very low ion an industry where healthy names typically trade for 12 times earnings. And the consensus estimate for 2012 is much higher, at $2.27 a share, showing quite a bit of potential for new investors.

Guggenheim Securities analyst Marty Mosby calls Bank of America a "value play," and upgraded the shares to a buy rating on August 13, with a 12-month target of $16.50. When Mosby's report was published, shares closed at $13.06, which the analyst said was "a good entry point." Based on Friday's closing price of $13.28, Mosby's target would be a 24% return.

Not bad, but investors might want to look beyond the typical 12-month horizon for analysts making investment recommendations. Eventually Bank of America will begin returning capital to investors, though buy backs, or better, through meaningful dividends, which will build additional support into the shares.

A play on Bank of America is a play on the nation's economic expansion. The company stands to benefit from the coming wave of industry merger activity, along with the eventual recovery in the market for initial public offerings and other investment banking activities. When loan demand eventually picks up, Bank of America will also be in the thick of things, especially as a major player in the residential mortgage market.

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