SAN FRANCISCO ( TheStreet) -- Wells Fargo ( WFC) isn't the biggest bank in the United States, but as of Thursday afternoon, it's the most valuable.

As of Thursday's close, the San Francisco-based lender was worth $157.6 billion by market capitalization, up 0.8% at $30.02 per share -- just $1.2 billion more than JPMorgan Chase ( JPM), which closed down 0.5% at $40.01.

Bank of America ( BAC), whose stock has been beaten down this year, is valued at just $126.3 billion, having closed up 1.9% at $12.52 per share. Citigroup ( C), despite its heavy dilution from the federal government's stock conversion, is worth $133.2 billion following a flat close at $4.59.

With $1.2 trillion in assets, Wells is much smaller than any of those three competitors, whose balance sheets top $2 trillion apiece. Yet its shares have held up relatively well throughout the crisis, basically flat from the start of 2008. The company grew its footprint with the acquisition of Wachovia and has been expanding its presence in many business lines -- from consumer banking to capital markets activities and wealth management -- while Bank of America and Citi are shrinking.

The company is also well-loved on Wall Street, with KBW citing Wells Fargo as a top pick on Thursday morning. Analysts cited the potential for Wells to boost its dividend next year and said its stock is trading at a "meaningful discount" relative to its peers. Of the 31 analysts covering the shares, 22 rate it at either strong buy (8) or buy (14).

-- Written by Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York.

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