Regions Financial: 'Conviction' Winner

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - Regions Financial ( RF) was the winner on Monday among the largest U.S. financial names, with shares rising 1% to close at $7.43.

The broad indexes all ended down after the Federal Reserve reported that during July, total U.S. consumer credit declined at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.5%, after increasing at annual rates of 5.3% in June, and 8.7% in May. In the wake of several weak economic reports, including disappointing employment numbers on Friday, investors continue looking hopefully toward Thursday, when the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee makes its next statement.

The KBW Bank Index ( I:BKX) dipped 1% to close at 48.89, with all but four of the 24 index components showing declines for the session.

Shares of Regions Financial have now returned 73% year-to-date, following a 38% decline during 2011.

The shares trade for 1.1 times their reported June 30 tangible book value of $6.69, and for nine times the consensus 2013 earnings estimate of 80 cents, among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

During the second quarter, regions redeemed all $3.5 billion in preferred stock held by the government for bailout assistance received in 2008 through the Troubled Assets Relief Program, after selling its Morgan Keegan subsidiary and raising $900 million in common equity during the first quarter.

The company reported second-quarter earnings available to common shareholders of $284 million, or 20 cents a share, increasing from $145 million, or 11 cents a share during the first quarter, and $55 million, or four cents a share, during the second quarter of 2011. The second-quarter earnings were reduced by $71 million, or five cents a share, from the accelerated discount accretion on the redeemed TARP preferred shares.

Regions reported a second-quarter return on average assets of 0.92% and a return on average tangible common equity (ROE) of 12.40%.

Goldman Sachs analyst Richard Ramsden on Monday added Regions to his firm's "Conviction List," while reiterating a "Buy" rating for the bank, with a price target of $9.00, saying "a strong self-help story, continued credit recovery and improving fundamentals (margins, expenses, and loan growth) will drive upside to its shares, with branch repositioning, rationalizing its franchise and a continued US Southeast housing recovery acting as key catalysts."

Ramsden said he sees "potential for 100-200bp improvement in RF's ROE via rationalizing and repositioning its branch network, while a potential divestiture of its Midwest footprint could result in an additional 85-100bp of upside." The analyst added that "if we were to assume RF could reposition 15% its branch network and divest its Midwest footprint at a 3% deposit premium," the shares could appreciate by 35% over the next 18 to 24 months.

Ramsden raised his 2014 earnings estimate for Regions to 93 cents from 85 cents and his 2013 EPS estimate to 87 cents from 83 cents, based on expectations for an improved net interest margin, along with "improved expense and credit leverage."

RF Chart RF data by YCharts

Interested in more on Regions Financial? See TheStreet Ratings' report card for this stock.

Bank of America was Monday's financial loser, with shares pulling back 2.5% to close at $8.58. The shares have now returned 55% year-to-date, following a 58% decline during 2011.

The shares trade for 0.7 times their reported June 30 tangible book value of $13.22, and for nine times the consensus 2013 EPS estimate of 91 cents, among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. The consensus 2012 EPS estimate is 55 cents.

Ramsden on Monday said that Bank of America's shares were "fairly valued, given risks," and the company's timeline for implementing its Project New BAC efficiency program and reducing "its legacy asset servicing costs," as it works through mortgage repurchase demands.

The company's mortgage putback claims increased by 41% just in the second quarter, to $22.7 billion as of June 30.

Ramsden said that for Bank of America, "earning its cost of capital is likely a 2015+ event and would be highly dependent on circumstances largely outside BAC's control, like the housing recovery and revenue loss associated with expense cuts," and estimated "that with a 5% decline in revenue, better expense efficiency over time could command $12 per share versus closer to $8 per share today, but not without risks."

The analyst called Bank of America's potential upside "enticing," but said his firm recommended staying on the sidelines for the time being, as the potential revenue reduction from the cost cuts " is difficult to quantify," and because "recognizing the proposed cost savings will take time and carry execution risk."

Speaking at the Barclays Capital Global Financial Services Conference in New York, Bank of America CFO Bruce Thompson said that after adjusting for goodwill impairments and first-quarter annual compensation expenses, "our expenses were down about $3 billion in the second quarter from the prior-year period and down about over $1 billion on a quarter-over-quarter basis."

BAC Chart BAC data by YCharts

Interested in more on Bank of America? See TheStreet Ratings' report card for this stock.

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-- Written by Philip van Doorn in Jupiter, Fla.

>Contact by Email.

Philip W. van Doorn is a member of TheStreet's banking and finance team, commenting on industry and regulatory trends. He previously served as the senior analyst for TheStreet.com Ratings, responsible for assigning financial strength ratings to banks and savings and loan institutions. Mr. van Doorn previously served as a loan operations officer at Riverside National Bank in Fort Pierce, Fla., and as a credit analyst at the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, where he monitored banks in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Mr. van Doorn has additional experience in the mutual fund and computer software industries. He holds a bachelor of science in business administration from Long Island University.

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