3. Capital One Financial
Credit card company Capital One Financial ( COF) has the best profitability metrics among the top 20 large banks. The company finished 2011 with a return on assets of 1.63% compared to 1.52% in 2010. The bank's fourth-quarter performance disappointed however, with earnings of $407 million, or 88 cents a share, declining from $813 million, or $1.78 the previous quarter, and $697 million, or $1.54 a share, a year earlier. The earnings ding came from higher -than- expected expenses, which included "approximately $90 million in litigation expenses and approximately $40 million in asset write downs and other costs as the company rationalized some facilities and equipment." The fourth-quarter expense spike also included items related to the company's coming purchase of ING Direct from ING Groep for roughly $9 billion, which Capital One still expects to complete during the first quarter. Analyst sentiment for Capital One, as the company heads into a huge transition with its two major acquisitions, is positive. "Despite the sharp increase in expenses attributable to both infrastructure investment, in preparation for the acquisitions, and marketing spending, which is driving industry-leading transaction and receivables growth, we continue to view the acquisitions positively, as COF will be able to reinvest ING Direct's low-yielding securities and mortgage portfolios into HSBC's higher-yielding credit card receivables," FBR Capital analysts said in a recent note. 19 out of 30 analysts rating the shares a buy, while ten analysts have neutral ratings, and one recommends selling the shares.