Bank of America Will Cut to Hit Earnings: Analyst

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Bank of America ( BAC) is set for strong earnings growth over the next two years in comparison to other large-cap banks, according to Stifel Nicolaus analyst Christopher Mutascio.

The analyst on Monday upgraded Bank of America to a "Buy" rating, with an $11 price target, which represents 21% upside over the stock's closing price of $9.12 on Friday.

Bank of America's shares trade for a low 0.7 times their reported Sept. 30 tangible book value of $13.48, and for nine times the consensus 2013 earnings estimate of 97 cents a share, among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. The consensus 2014 EPS estimate is $1.27.

After already seeing the shares rise 65% year-to-date, following a 58% plunge in 2011, Nicolaus upgraded Bank of America because the company's earnings "trajectory will be better than the rest of our large cap bank universe over the next two years as a decline in operating expenses more than offsets sluggish revenue growth stemming from the continuation of a low interest rate and tepid loan growth environment."

Mutascio estimates that Bank of America will earn 92 cents a share in 2013, with EPS of $1.20 a share in 2014. "Our estimates project a 30% EPS growth rate in 2014 for BAC versus a median increase of less than 5% for the rest of our universe," he said.

Large banks are facing painful times on the earnings front, unless they can cut their operating and extraordinary expenses significantly. The narrowing of the net interest margin -- the difference between the average rate earned on loans and investments and the average cost for deposits and borrowings -- continues to be the main industry headwind, with the Federal Reserve keeping its short-term federal funds rate in a target range of between zero and 0.25% since late 2008. Meanwhile, the central bank is doing everything it can to hold long-term rates at historically low levels. Most banks have already enjoyed most of the benefit of cheaper funding, and are now feeling the squeeze as their assets reprice at lower rates.

The industry is enjoying the boon of the mortgage refinancing wave, but for most, that it not likely to outweigh the margin pressure, the slowing commercial loan demand, and slowing of the loan loss reserve releases that have padded earnings for so many large banks during the credit recovery. But even if reserves are not being releases, many of the large banks will still see a benefit to earnings from lower credit costs.

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