NEW YORK ( TheStreet)-- Banks stocks in the U.S. have had an impressive run of late.
Over the past three months SPDR KBW Bank (KBE) and SPDR KBW Regional Banking (KRE), exchange traded funds that track large-cap and mid-cap banks, have returned 12.78% and 11.8% respectively, versus 7.5% for the S&P 500.
For small and mid-sized banks, particularly ones that are just now returning to profitability, investors appear to be betting they will be snapped up in a wave of consolidation. Long-awaited M&A in the banking sector appears finally underway, with a spate of deals closing out 2010 getting investors excited about the potential for more transactions.
Some of these weaker banks may even surprise people by turning out to be acquirers. That's because the losses they piled up during the crisis can be used to shelter future profits. For example, if Regions Financial (RF), which lost 67 cents per share in 2010, were to acquire a profitable company it could make use of still-undeclared loan losses to avoid paying taxes on the next $3.5 billion it earns, according to corporate tax consultant Bob Willens.However, if Regions gets acquired, it will lose that benefit. For the larger players, investors appear to be looking for increased dividend and share buybacks now that nearly all these institutions have built up big capital cushions in the wake of the crisis. Not to mention the fact that the economy looks to be on the mend, and, to paraphrase Fairholme Capital Management CEO Bruce Berkowitz, who has been buying up shares of big beaten up U.S. financials by the truckload, it is hard to imagine a recovery that excluded institutions like Citigroup (C - Get Report), Morgan Stanley (MS) or Bank of America (BAC - Get Report). So, given the big run-up in bank stocks of late, it's a good time to take a look at some of the biggest bargains out there. To arrive at our list, we looked at banks located in the U.S. with a market cap of at least $1 billion. We used Bloomberg analyst consensus estimates for one year out and picked the 10 banks with the lowest price-to-earnings multiple one year out based on those consensus estimates. The ranking is based on the close of trading Monday. Here are the results.