The infamous London Whale trade, which saw the bank lose more than $6 billion due to complicated maneuvers, is one of many recent examples. That the bank was also tied to Bernie Madoff was another embarrassment -- one that forced it to pay $1.7 billion to settle accusations that it facilitated Madoff's Ponzi scheme by ignoring the warning signs.
The stock closed Friday at $55.80, up less than half of 1%. Shares are down 2.6% on the year to date, trailing both Wells Fargo (WFC - Get Report) and the banking sector, which are up 15% and 5.4% year to date.
And with recent concerns about CEO Jamie Dimon, who disclosed he has "curable throat cancer," investors are taking a wait-and-see attitude with both Dimon's and the bank's near-term recovery plans. But all of this combined makes JPMorgan one of the best investments on the market today.From Friday's close of $55.80, the stock is trading at just 8.5 times 2015 estimates, almost 6 points lower than the industry average of 13.88. This is also 11 points below the S&P 500's peer category P/E of 19. This tells me that JPMorgan shares, which are being discounted due to its legal and regulatory exposure, should head toward $70 in the next 12 to 18 months.
[Read: Citigroup Has Edge Over Bank of America in Mortgage Fine Talks] Jamie Dimon won't lose track of the bottom line. The bank's balance sheet remains strong, showing no permanent damage. And investors have been too quick to ignore strong fundamental signs, including the fact that JPMorgan passed the Fed's Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR). Citigroup (C), on the other hand, didn't. JPMorgan has also raised its quarterly dividend by 5 cents to 30 cents and announced a $15 billion stock repurchase program. Banks in poor financial health don't look for ways to part with their cash. This tells me that management believes in the bank's future. And so should investors. The bank's legal and regulatory woes have already reached their peak. What's more, management is positioning JPMorgan's investment banking business to gain domestic and global share from both Citigroup and Bank of America (BAC). JPMorgan has become one of the top picks among large multinational companies looking for expertise in areas like fixed income and M&A.
[Read: Bank of America Growth Challenges Go Beyond $17 Billion for Feds] When you combine these bank's improvements in areas like mortgage loan origination and overall loan growth, JPMorgan core business is not shaky as it is sometimes perceived. This means that the bank, which is not as dependent on domestic GDP, can still print money without resorting to risky trading maneuvers. From my vantage point, JPMorgan's reputation can only improve from here, returning its business to a quality level currently enjoyed by Wells Fargo. And it's only a matter of time before all of the legal and regulatory clouds disappear. By then it will be too late. The stock is now one of the best bargains on the market. On the basis of improved/discounted earnings and cash flow growth, the stock will have to trade at its rightful fair market value of around $70. At that point, you'll be kicking yourself for missing out on an expensive dirty shirt. At the time of publication, the author didn't hold any stock in the companies mentioned. Follow @Richard_WSPB This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.
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