NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- This is a good time to buy shares of Bank of America (BAC) and Citigroup (C), but investors should steer clear of JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Wells Fargo (WFC) for the time being, according to Societe General.
Societe General equity analyst Murali Gopal and his research team on Friday initiated their coverage of the "big four" U.S. banks.
Gopal rates Bank of America a "buy," with a $17 price target. "BAC is uniquely placed for sustained outperformance -- in the near term significant cost savings, additional reserve releases and a strong capital markets business will be supportive of earnings growth and improvement in [returns on tangible equity]," the analyst wrote in a note to clients. Gopal added that "Over the medium term, as short-term rates rise, the bank's strong retail branch network and core deposit base should boost top-line growth. Society General estimates Bank of America's operating earnings will grow from 1.01 a share this year to $1.37 in 2014 and $1.72 in 2015.
Society General also rates Citigroup a "buy," with a $59 price target. The improvement in housing prices is a good sign for Citi Holdings, which is the company's subsidiary into which noncore assets have been placed to runoff. The rise in home prices "bodes well" for the release of loan loss reserves, which boosts operating earnings, and $6.4 billion of the reserves within Citi Holdings are tied to North American housing, according to Gopal."Stronger US taxable earnings will be a larger driver of Deferred Tax Assets (DTA)," recapture, according to the analyst. Citigroup's DTA valuation allowance was roughly $45 billion at the end of the second quarter, and the company's earnings during the first half of 2013 were boosted by $1.3 billion in DTA recapture. Gopal estimates Citi's adjusted EPS will increase from $4.93 in 2013 to $5.64 in 2014 and $6.31 in 2015. For JPMorgan Chase, Society General's initial rating is a "hold." The company's operating performance should be "steady," however, "Rising investigations, litigation and regulatory scrutiny will take time to resolve, and should keep related costs elevated, but more importantly, curb investor sentiment," according to Gopal. Society General estimates JPM's EPS for 2013 will total $5.88, declining slightly to $5.85 in 2014 and increasing to $6.25 in 2015.
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