NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Citigroup's ( C - Get Report) stock is either the cheapest of large financials or the most expensive, depending on which metric you use.
As the accompanying chart shows, as of Nov. 25, the shares are extremely pricey when viewed on a price-to-2010 earnings basis. Using consensus estimates compiled by Bloomberg, the stock trades at 58.73 times next year's estimated profit, more than three times Bank of America ( BAC), which is the next priciest of the group, and six and a half times Goldman Sachs ( GS). On a price-to-book basis, however, Citigroup is cheap in comparison to its peers. Citigroup and Bank of America are the only financial names listed here that trade below book value. The other large banks are somewhere between JPMorgan Chase ( JPM)'s 9% premium to book, and U.S. Bancorp ( USB)'s 92% premium. American Express ( AXP) meanwhile, trades at a whopping three and a half times book value following a strong surge in the stock price in recent weeks. Citigroup's low price-to-book valuation reflects the massive deleveraging of its balance sheet following its conversion of $58 billion worth of preferred stock -- including a $25 billion U.S. government stake -- into common equity in September. That transaction brought Citi's leverage down from 50.8 at the end of the second quarter to 18.5 at the end of the third quarter, according to research from JMP Securities' Michael Hecht. Citi has also been selling assets, however, most recently raising $1 billion through its sale of a 93.5% stake in a Japanese call center. Richard Bove, analyst at Rochdale Securities, believes both of these metrics present problems, however. Bove says he has been trying to restructure his valuation techniques for looking at bank stocks, as he believes none of the traditional methods have held up well over time. "I've taken the numbers back to 1995 and in some cases back to 1990," he says, adding that the only thing that works is the expected direction of non-performing assets.
"If non-performing assets are expected to continue to rise, these stocks go down. If they're expected to continue to decline, the stocks go up," Bove says. Bove estimates Citigroup is trading at 30.5 times 2010 earnings and 9.7 times 2011 earnings, higher multiples than he has for Bank of America. Nonetheless, while he likes both stocks, he likes Citigroup more. That's because he sees Citigroup getting rid of its unattractive businesses over the next two to four years, while focusing on a few core areas, such as processing credit card payments, servicing the Fortune 500, and private wealth management. Bank of America, on the other hand, is just about waiting for loan loss provisions to come down, which will boost earnings. Citigroup, he says is "more of a unit growth story based upon attractive businesses,
Bank of America is the earnings go up because loan losses come down and that's just not as good a story." -- Written by Dan Freed in New York. Read More: Citigroup's success in deleveraging its balance sheet. Citigroup's efforts to sell off its unwanted assets.