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TFS Financial Corporation (TFSL) Could Be a Double: JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), Bank of America Corp (BAC)

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TFS Financial Corporation (NASDAQ:TFSL) is a gem hiding in plain sight. While the market hates the uncertainty surrounding the company, you should love it, because it makes the stock a great bargain. This investment exploits a trick mastered by investing greats Peter Lynch and Seth Klarman.

That’s why my Special Situations portfolio is buying shares in the bank on the next market day. Read on to see why this stock could easily double from here with the potential for dividends and buybacks.

TFS Financial Corporation (NASDAQ:TFSL)The business

From an operational standpoint, there’s nothing truly exceptional about TFS Financial Corporation (NASDAQ:TFSL). It runs your average bank, taking deposits and lending for mainly residential property. Some 78% of its lending takes place in Ohio, with another 17% in Florida, and the remainder in various states across the U.S. In contrast to seemingly cheap peers such as Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC), Citigroup Inc. (NYSE:C), and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) — each with huge exposure to risky derivatives and other financial arcana — TFS looks much more like your hometown corner bank. You don’t have to worry that a London Whale will swallow this one.

TFS Financial Corporation (NASDAQ:TFSL)’s credit metrics have improved greatly since the worst of the financial crisis, though there’s still room for gains. For example, delinquent loans have been cut in half since 2009, and non-performing assets have trended down consistently since 2010. These levels are still elevated, meaning profitability should increase as the economy normalizes. The bank has continued to grow book value since 2009.

TFS expects to continue growing book value through its emphasis on adjustable rate financing. The company has moved much of its portfolio — 48% as of December 31, 2012 — to adjustable rate. That means that when interest rates rise, as they someday will, TFS is somewhat insulated from the destruction. In addition, recent mortgages have strong credit quality. On first mortgages originated in the 2012 fiscal year, FICO scores came in at 782 with an average loan to value of 63%, so high credit quality with borrowers having plenty of skin in the game. Those figures are similar so far this year.

How much would you expect to pay for a bank like this? At a minimum, I would say a fair price is tangible book value. TFS trades for about half that. It gets better, because TFS Financial Corporation (NASDAQ:TFSL) has a way to drive book value per share higher even if its banking operations don’t improve.

The special situation
If Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) were trading at only the value of cash on its books and had a profitable business besides, would you hesitate to buy? That’s exactly the situation here, but it’s even better, because TFS plans to actually return that cash to you, unlike Apple. Here’s what I mean.

By law, banks have to maintain equity over a minimum level to be considered well-capitalized. For TFS, that means having risk-based capital of at least 10% of assets. TFS Financial Corporation (NASDAQ:TFSL) vastly exceeds this, with 22.8%. In fact, TFS has so much capital that it could buy every share that trades publicly!

On the most recent conference call, management joked about doing this very thing. Over the last few calls, they’ve talked about buying a sizable number of shares and how to return cash to shareholders. They are serious about this and have the history to back it up, having purchased nearly $300 million in shares — more than 25% of the float — in the two years after going public in 2007. A strong buyback could easily grow book value per share by 35%, which should translate into solid gains for shareholders.

In addition, there’s the potential for reinstating a dividend, a move that would bring a whole new class of investors to the company.

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