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JPMorgan Chase May Be a Safer Bet Than Wells Fargo

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Wells Fargo (WFC - Get Report) shares have left those of JPMorgan Chase (JPM - Get Report) but it may be time for investors to rethink things.

Wells Fargo has outperformed JPMorgan, not to mention Citigroup (C - Get Report), Bank of America (BAC - Get Report), Goldman Sachs (GS - Get Report) and Morgan Stanley (MS - Get Report) because it is perceived as having less exposure to Europe and is less dependent on investment banking.

As a result, shares of Wells are down about 16% over the past 100 days, versus more than 28% for JPMorgan, 33% for Goldman, 42% for Citigroup and 51% for Bank of America.

There is no question investment banking revenues have been weak. A report Tuesday from Barclays Capital projects investment banking revenues will drop by more than 35% from the fourth quarter of 2010 to the fourth quarter of 2012.

Still, the debate about whether the drop off in investment banking revenues is cyclical or secular is a long way from resolved. Atlantic Equities analyst Richard Staite argues the weak environment will end up benefitting JPMorgan. He notes global competitors like Credit Suisse (CS)and Nomura have been shedding staff and reducing capital deployed in investment banking divisions. He also believes investors are paying increasing attention to counterparty risk and may shift trading to the safest banks such as JPMorgan.

"It is an environment where the strongest banks will get stronger. JPMorgan gained shared during the US financial crisis and we believe this will continue through the Euro crisis," Staite writes.

What's more, investors typically assign a lower multiple to investment banking revenues than they do to retail banking because they see them as less predictable. But if tighter regulations mean that JPMorgan's revenues investment banking revenues increasingly come from market dominance (winning M&A advisory mandates) rather than risk taking (proprietary trading), investors should be willing to pay a higher multiple.

Then there is leadership to think about. Much has been made of how reliant JPMorgan appears to be on Jamie Dimon, but at 55, Dimon is still relatively young for a CEO. What if he decides to stay put for another 10 years? Meanwhile, Wells Fargo boss John Stumpf, who had the charismatic banking veteran Dick Kovacevich as his Chairman to guide him through the crisis, has to convincingly prove he has a vision for Wells Fargo to take it to through the next decade.

For example, though Wells Fargo is not without global aspirations , it is clearly nowhere near JPMorgan in terms of its ability to capture business outside the U.S.

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SYM TRADE IT LAST %CHG
BAC $15.60 0.26%
C $53.20 0.24%
GS $198.10 0.38%
JPM $63.24 0.64%
MS $36.96 0.57%

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