"Is It Safe?" is a feature by TheStreet.com Ratings that looks at a company's risk-and-reward potential. Find out if your stocks are safe Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 4.BB&T Corp. ( BBT), one of 19 banks subjected to the Treasury's stress tests completed in May, is among the strongest of the large regional holding companies whose shares are set to soar when the economy rebounds. Winston-Salem, N.C.-based BB&T, with $143 billion in total assets as of March 31, already repaid the Treasury its entire investment in preferred shares made under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. The other eight stress-tested companies that paid back the government include JPMorgan Chase ( JPM), Goldman Sachs ( GS,), U.S. Bancorp ( USB), American Express ( AXP), Bank of New York Mellon ( BK) and Capital One ( COF). BB&T on Friday will report earnings, which will reveal its capital ratios. The bank repaid $3.1 billion in TARP money and raised $1.7 billion in common equity in May. A charge of about $48 million related to the TARP repayment will torpedo profits. As of March 31, BB&T's ratio of nonperforming assets to total assets was 2.12%, a significant increase from 1.55% the previous quarter, but lower than several other large holding companies. The annualized ratio of net charge-offs (actual loan losses) to average loans was 1.56% for the first quarter and 0.89% in 2008. The charge-off ratio for 2008 was particularly low when compared with other large regional holding companies subjected to the stress tests, such as Fifth Third Bancorp ( FITB), which reported net charge-offs of 3.16% of average loans during 2008; Regions Financial ( RF), with a net charge-off ratio of 1.58%; and even SunTrust ( STI), at 1.2%. BB&T's loan losses have been spread across its well-diversified portfolio. The company's earnings have held up over the past year, with returns on average assets ranging between 0.85% and 1.28%, and returns on average equity from 7.75% to 13.23%. That's impressive, considering the massive losses taken by so many large banks over the past year.
BB&T's common shares have fallen 21% this year, twice that of the S&P 500 Financials Index. The company's lowest closing share price was $13.32 on March 5. Since then, the stock has surged 61%, less than the 81% gain for the index. Then again, the index is dominated by companies such as Bank of America ( BAC) and Citigroup ( C), both of which more than doubled. While some banks will continue to post losses, potentially hurting healthier rivals, BB&T is an excellent bet for the long-term investor. TSC Ratings provides exclusive stock, ETF and mutual fund ratings and commentary based on award-winning, proprietary tools. Its "safety first" approach to investing aims to reduce risk while seeking solid outperformance on a total return basis.