NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- With shares of Bank of America (BAC) rangebound this year between $14 to $18 shares are currently trading around $16, up nearly 5% for the year to date -- how can the second-largest U.S. bank by assets double over the next 12 to 15 months?
Let's clear up one thing: Bofa can only go higher once it's finally done with paying penalties and other costs related to the 2008 financial crisis and its purchase of Countrywide Financial.
In the meantime, the bank will most likely report a 9-cent loss in the third quarter, its second of the year due to fines or penalties from the mortgage mess during the financial crisis. Bank of America is expected to earn between $1.40 to $1.79 a share in 2015. The estimates reflect that the bank has cleared a majority of its litigation and legal costs from major cases with the Department of Justice and other federal housing agencies from this year.
Even with the almost $26 billion in settlements behind the bank this year, Bank of America is woefully undervalued compared to the other mega-money center banks Citigroup (C) , JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Wells Fargo (WFC) .
As you can see from the table above, although Bank of America has fared better than Citigroup and JPMorgan in the short term (year-to-date) with a return of 2.9%, it is 2.5 times below the YTD return of the basket of financial institutions held in the Financial Select SPDR ETF (XLF) and well below the five-year period since the 2008 financial crisis of almost 62%. Also, BAC not only has the lowest price to book of this group (including below the industry average) but the lowest of all the largest 25 U.S. banks I follow -- talk about value!
The chart below emphasizes how Bank of America has performed over the last five years compared to the XLF ETF or the average financial institution within the XLF:
Even though the bank has more tripled in price over the last three years since posting a post crisis low of $4.92 set in December 2011, the bank can more the double its current price.
Nobody can argue Bank of America isn't in better shape today than it was on April 10, 2010, when it set its five-year high of $19.86. The bank has since paid out over $60 billion in legal costs, settlements and fines during the financial crisis since 2008 -- by far the most of any bank.
So how do we get the stock to $30? The table below should give you some idea of how the price target can be achieved:
The two settlements in 2014 accounted for almost $16 billion in cash settlements, or $1.52 per share, based on 10.5 billion shares outstanding. If BAC had not had those charges, the bank would have earned $1.92 in 2014, according to analysts' average estimates. With an historical P/E of 15 times, the bank would have a price target of almost $29 per share.
Estimates for 2015 of $1.79 are conservative given that the bank will probably have favorable economic tailwinds with higher net interest margin spreads in a rising interest rate environment from Federal Reserve key benchmark rate hikes.
Furthermore, the bank will more than likely gain a few more cents per share on earnings next year after being given the green light on a share buyback program of at least $4 billion in shares nixed by the Fed this past spring because of a miscalculation on capital calculations (and partially offset by another dividend increase to shareholders).
At the very least, the bank will not have the overhang of another large record-setting litigation settlement going forward, which should allow the bank to focus it bolstering its core lending and investment banking business. At a forward P/E of 17 times the bank should achieve a stock price of over $30 a share.
With modest revenue projections of 3.2% for 2015 to just over $90.2 billion and improved operating margins, Bank of America should be able to comfortably obtain a $30 target price within the next 12 to 15 months. All assumptions are well within the prevue of forecasts given fairly reasonable and modest metric estimate assumptions that would produce a handsome return of 90% from current price levels.
At the time of publication, the author was long C, BAC and WFC, although positions may change at any time.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
TheStreet Ratings team rates BANK OF AMERICA CORP as a Buy with a ratings score of B. TheStreet Ratings Team has this to say about their recommendation:
"We rate BANK OF AMERICA CORP (BAC) a BUY. This is driven by multiple strengths, which we believe should have a greater impact than any weaknesses, and should give investors a better performance opportunity than most stocks we cover. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its expanding profit margins, notable return on equity and increase in stock price during the past year. We feel these strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had sub par growth in net income." You can view the full analysis from the report here: BAC Ratings Report