Westpac Banking

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Australian financial services giant Westpac Banking ( WBK) has a massive presence Down Under and in New Zealand, a big enough scale to make it the third biggest bank on the continent. Sydney-based Westpac sports more than 1,200 branches that offer products raging from conventional retail and commercial banking to investments. Recent acquisitions have boosted Westpac's exposure to wealth management, hiking its fee-based revenue at a time when investors are getting antsy about the rate-sensitive banking business.

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In a big way, Westpac is a leveraged play on the commodity-driven Australian economy. While the firm was far from insulated from the Great Recession that sparked off in the U.S., its impact was much less jarring in Australia, where housing prices have remained very resilient. A number of protections in the Australian market help to mitigate the risks of the kinds of capital shortfalls that U.S. banks experienced in 2008, destroying large swaths of shareholder value.

Westpac's big branch network makes it the bank of choice for more than 12 million customers, a fact that gives WBK access to a huge cheap deposit base. As a result, the bank is well capitalized and should stay that way. With rising analyst sentiment in Westpac, we're betting on shares.

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