In the prior week, banks fortunes have changed plenty. Consider Bank of America. A stock once considered to be cheap ran up to $10 and then back down as a result of the news resulting in their stress tests.
While I know plenty of people who liked B of A at lower prices, at 10 is when people start to get nervous. I’m certainly not going to say it’s overvalued at 10 but it’s not a place I’d like to know it. Not while there are plenty of other worthwhile banks out there. At 10 it’s trading half it’s book value, which might be a good thing to some. But considering it’s trading at ridiculous price earnings ratios and it has enough risky debt to question its balance sheet, you might think of other reasons why its valued as such.
On the contrary, look at Wells Fargo. A company that during the 2008 financial crisis definitely took its lumps. Afterwards it acquired Wachovia, a company with a good amount of bad debt in its books and in serious need of cash.
Wells on the other hand trades at about one and a half times its book value currently. Many people question the Wachovia purchase, but in reality, Wells didn’t have that many bad assets during the 2008 crisis. Instead, it was guilty of being in a bad neighborhood. While every bank was either selling (Bear, LEH R.I.P.), or tanking because of what it had on its books, Wells went down just for being a bank.
They saw an opportunity to buy Wachovia because they could and why not to expand operations? If anything, downturns in the economy shouldn’t make us feel like the sky is falling, it should make us look for opportunities, just like Bank of America did with its Merrill purchase, JP Morgan did with its Bear purchase, and Barclay’s did with its Lehman purchase.
While maybe I should like BAC a little bit more given that it looked for opportunities, that bank makes me nervous and I think its relying on its brand name. I definitely like Wells Fargo more because its a more true retail bank trying to expand, where as Bank of America was primarily a retail bank, expanded into something else, and is now paying for the consequences. You could argue that Wells may go the way of B of A, but I think it will manage its safe business with its more lucrative ventures in the future.