NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- With growing evidence of a budding economic recovery in the Midwest states, investors should consider a regional banking play as part of a long-term growth strategy.

Two examples of winning Midwest bank holding companies are Huntington Bancshares ( HBAN) of Columbus, Ohio, whose investors enjoyed an 89% total return during 2010 and Commerce Bancshares ( CBSH), which has seen its shares return 15% since the company was featured as part of the Best In Class series in August.

With car sales rebounding and Creighton University's Economic Forecast Group reporting that Mid-America should experience "healthy growth for the first half of 2011" we may well be looking at a slew of improved economic reports over the next year.

This is the perfect time to look at bank stocks that might be excellent recovery plays for the Midwest.

Between the acres of the rye,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
These pretty country folks would lie,
In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

William Shakespeare - It was a Lover and his Lass.

If we look only at 2011 consensus earnings estimates among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, many high quality Midwest bank names appear fully valued. For example, Huntington trades at 15 times the 2011 earnings estimate and MB Financial at 25 times earnings.

However, if we consider a longer investment horizon, there are 10 actively traded regional names trading for 12 times their 2012 earnings estimates or less.

Using data supplied by SNL Financial for the 202 publicly traded bank and thrift holding companies headquartered in 12 Midwestern states -- excluding those traded on the Pink Sheets -- we narrowed down the list to names meeting the forward P/E criteria for 2012 with three-month average daily trading volume of at least 50,000 shares.

Here they are in descending order by forward P/E based on the 2012 consensus. For the cheapest ones by that measure, investors need to beware of a higher level of risk. Another issue to consider is that seven out of the 10 names still owe bailout money to the government that was received through the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP.


For each of the 10 banks discussed on the following pages, we'll be looking at capital strength, earnings quality and asset quality. For an explanation of those terms you can click on the box below.

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