JPMorgan's Projections Underline Just How Cheap the Stock Is

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- JPMorgan Chase's ( JPM) shares are cheaply priced to forward earnings estimates and the company's projections point toward higher price multiples and profits for investors.

Just how cheap are JPMorgan's shares?

A quick look at the 24 components of the KBW Bank Index ( I:BKX) provides a pretty stark comparison.

JPMorgan's shares closed at $47.60 on Tuesday, trading for 8.2 times the consensus 2014 earnings estimate of $5.80 a share, among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. Only two of the 24 components of the KBW Bank Index traded at lower multiples to the forward estimates, while nine of the names traded for more than 11 times forward earnings.

Bank of America ( BAC) is among the big banks trading at a higher multiple than JPMorgan, with shares closing at $11.13 Tuesday, or 8.6 times the consensus 2014 EPS estimate of $1.29.

Bank of America is a recovery play. Eventually the company will finish working through its legacy mortgage mess, dramatically reducing expenses and unlocking capital, but it is unlikely to match JPMorgan's earnings performance over the next several years. Looking back, Bank of America's operating returns on average assets (ROA) have ranged from a negative 0.09% to a positive 0.26% over the past five years, according to Thomson Reuters Bank insight. Meanwhile, JPMorgan's ROA has risen steadily from 0.21% in 2007 to 0.94% in 2012.

Among the component stocks of the KBW Bank Index, only two other names trade at less than 8.5 times consensus earnings estimates. Citigroup ( C) closed at $41.29 Tuesday, trading for 7.9 times the consensus 2014 EPS estimate of $5.20. Capital One ( COF) closed at $51.47, trading for 7.6 times the consensus 2014 EPS estimate of $6.73.

Of course, one can easily argue that both Citi and Capital Ones are bargains, and the shares are being held back for different reasons. Citi is going through its own multiyear transition to right-size its balance sheet and rein-in expenses. Capital One had a disappointing fourth quarter , and its January credit card numbers showed a sharp decline in loan balances, which will be accelerated when the company completes the sale of its Best Buy ( BBY) card portfolio to Citigroup.

JPMorgan earned $21.3 billion during 2012, or $5.20 a share, despite the $6.2 billion hedge trading losses that were trumpeted by the business media and a few politicians. The company's return on tangible common equity during 2012 was 15%, increasing from 11% the previous year.

The company on Tuesday said that its annual net income target "through the cycle" was $24 billion, or $6.28 a share, based on its year-end 2012 share count. JPMorgan's "normalized" earnings target is $27.5 billion, $7.20 a share.

JPMorgan Chase also expects to achieve full compliance with the Federal Reserve's proposed capital requirements, with a Basel III Tier 1 common equity ratio of 9.5% at the end of 2013, rising to roughly 11.5% by the end of 2014, not including share repurchases. Based on regulatory requirements, the company projects it will have $28 billion in excess capital at the end of 2014, again excluding share buybacks.

A Higher Multiple Ahead?

Oppenheimer analyst Chris Kotowski on Wednesday said in a report that there was a change in tone at Tuesday's Investor Day meetings from previous years. "There always seemed to be a cadre of attendees whose questions seemed to betray a view that surely the industry was just kicking the can down the road and was in reality surely on the precipice of calamity," he wrote. At this year's Investor Day, the negative tone "was replaced by ticky-tack fine grain detailed questions about cost saves, branch builds, corporate culture and the like," Kotowski wrote.

JPM CEO James Dimon made it clear that the company was focused on becoming more efficient, and said that major acquisitions were "pretty much off the table." The bank has a goal of $1 billion in annual cost savings, through various efficiency improvements and the elimination of roughly 4,000 jobs.

Kotowski called the items JPMorgan focused on during Investor Day, "boring stuff that probably bespeaks a likelihood of higher multiples." The analyst rates JPMorgan "outperform," with a 12-18 month price target of $64.00, estimating the company will earn $6.02 a share this year, with EPS rising to $6.50 in 2014.

"JPM remains our favorite name in the group at this juncture as we cannot normally find this kind of quality at 8x our estimate (or 9x consensus)," he wrote.

JPMorgan pointed out that its tangible book value per share rose to $39 in 2012 from $19 in 2006. Kotowski pointed out that the company had achieved a compounded annual growth rate of 12% "in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression."

Next: Stress Test Results

The Federal Reserve will announce the results of its annual stress tests on the nation's largest banks on March 7. These results will gauge the banks' ability to withstand a "severely adverse scenario" that includes a brutal recession beginning this year, while still remaining well capitalized.

The more important date for investors is March 14, when the Fed announces the results of the Comprehensive Analysis and Review (CCAR) of the banks' capital plans through the first quarter of 2014.

JPMorgan Chase is paying a quarterly dividend of $0.30 a share, which translates to a yield of 2.52% based on Tuesday's closing share price.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Erica Penala in a report on Wednesday said that her earnings estimates for JPMorgan assume "$5bn in dividends and $10bn in share buybacks" during 2013, with the quarterly dividend rising to $0.32.

Penala rates JPMorgan a "buy," and on Wednesday raised her price objective for the shares to $55.00 from $52.00. The analyst also raised her 2013 EPS estimate to $5.85 from $5.70 and her 2014 EPS estimate to $6.00 from $5.92, based on expectations of net income "stability" and a "continued reserve release" in JPMorgan's credit card business.

"JPM remains the cheapest P/E stock in our coverage universe" based on her firm's estimates, Penala wrote, adding that "if the market continues to sell risk, JPM should outperform its peers."

-- 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 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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