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USB Is a Bank Stock Bargain

Stocks in this article: BAC USB COF ZIOIN CMA KEY HBAN MTB

During the first quarter of 2013, U.S. Bancorp again led the biggest banks with an ROA of 1.63% and an ROCE of 1.61%.

All these numbers emphasize just how remarkable it is that U.S. Bancorp's stock has underperformed. A few more offer further evidence.

Bank of America (BAC) has been a favorite post-crisis punching bag, although in the eyes of regulators and politicians, the prime bank target has now become JPMorgan Chase (JPM), in light of the "London Whale" hedge trading losses of at least $6.2 billion during 2012, which JPMorgan easily brushed off on its way to record annual earnings.

With Bank of America scoring several recent successes in its attempts to work past the legacy mortgage mess left over after its acquisition of Countrywide Financial at the height of the financial crisis in 2008, the company's shares have returned over 12% this year through Friday's close at $13.02. That performance follows a return of 110% during 2012. Bank of America's shares trade for 10.1 times the consensus 2013 EPS estimate of $1.29.

Despite the wonderful recovery this year and last, the 10-year return for Bank of America's shares through Friday's close was a dismal negative 53%, reflecting the mortgage losses and dilution from common share offerings in the wake of the crisis. During the same period, U.S. Bancorp's shares returned 111%.

The long-term stock performance follows the earnings trend, which is hardly surprising. After all, Bank of America has only been marginally profitable over the past two years, and its mean ROA for the past 10 calendar years has been 0.75%, with a mean ROCE of 9.22%.

But why does Bank of America trade for 10.1 times the consensus 2014 EPS estimate of $1.29, which is nearly has high as U.S. Bancorp's forward P/E? For one thing, the market likes movement, and the consensus 2014 EPS estimate for Bank of America is 33% higher than the consensus 2013 EPS estimate of 97 cents. Analysts expect Bank of America's recovery to continue in 2014, with EPS of $1.52.

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