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10 Midwest Bank Stocks Rally Ready


NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- TheStreet has identified a select list of 10 bank holding companies headquartered in Midwest states, with the lowest forward price-to-earnings ratios based on consensus earnings estimates.

Baseball season is coming, along with the joy of spring and continued economic recovery. This is a great time for bullish investors to pick winners for a regional rally.

Many of the names featured here appear fully valued against the 2011 earnings estimates among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, however, when you go out another year and consider expectations based on a "closer-to-normal" 2012, two of the best-known Midwest banking names look cheap, with shares trading below 10 times forward earnings.

Then again, the "big four" U.S. banks look even cheaper on that basis.

Bank of America's (BAC) forward price-to-earnings ratio was 7.1, based on Friday's closing price of $13.34 and the consensus 2012 earnings estimate of $1.87 a share, among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. The company seems to have a target on its back, with the Federal Reserve's objection to its initial plan to begin returning capital to investors following the completion of the stress tests, other regulatory concerns including the latest "bright idea" of asking large mortgage servicers to pay delinquent mortgage borrowers as much as $21,000 apiece to hand over the keys, ongoing coverage of its legal expenses and potential losses from being forced to buy back securities originally packaged by Countrywide.

For investors who can commit for several years, this could be the moment of "maximum fear" for the stock as economic recovery unfolds, and it could be a historic buying opportunity.

For JPMorgan Chase (JPM), the forward P/E was 8.2, based on Friday's close at $45.86 and the consensus 2012 EPS estimate of $5.58. Citigroup (C) had a forward P/E of 8.4, based on a closing price of $4.46 Friday and a 2012 consensus earnings estimate of 53 cents a share. Wells Fargo's (WFC) forward P/E was 8.9, based on Friday's closing price of $31.94 and projected EPS of $3.58 for 2012

For long-term investors, the regional story may be more compelling, at least for now, and the market seems to be pricing-in the group's growth potential in the expected economic recovery.

To come up with our list, we isolated the 10 bank and thrift holding companies in 12 Midwest states with the lowest forward price-to-earnings ratios based on consensus 2012 earnings estimates among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. We limited our selections to stocks with average daily trading volume of more than 50 thousand shares and with at least two buy recommendations from analysts.

This approach excludes four banks that would have made the cut, but don't have enough buy ratings from analysts. First Merchants Corp. (FRME) of Muncie, Ind.; Old National Bancorp (ONB) of Champaign, Ill.; and First Busey Corp. (BUSE) of Champaign, Ill., each have one buy rating, while all four analysts covering Flagstar Bancorp (FBC) of Troy, Mich., are neutral.

Let's move on to our Midwest list. All data was provided by SNL Financial as of Friday's market close.

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