I took this on as a personal challenge. Being religiously bearish on Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC), when my editor initially pitched this story idea, I rejected it out of hand. What could I possibly say about Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) that was in any way, shape, or form positive, let alone bullish?
But the notion kept coming back to me, and I finally decided to pursue it with two goals in mind: (1) perhaps a reader who’s overly bullish on the superbank might get a more balanced perspective, and (2) perhaps a Motley Fool writer who’s zealously bearish on the country’s second-biggest bank might get a more balanced perspective, as well.
Without further ado, then, here are five reasons this bear found to be bullish on Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC).
1. Stunning 2012 stock performance
To fans of the bank, this is no secret, but for any new readers, it’s well worth noting: Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) doubled its stock price in 2012. Smarties who bought or held stock at the start of last year surely watched with glee as the price rose from $5.81 to $11.61, for a return of precisely 100.17%.
And while even a bear like me can’t argue with numbers like that, I will argue that Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC)’s share price had fallen so far, it pretty much had nowhere to go but up. Financials were the best performing sector of 2012 for the S&P 500, clearly rebounding after years in the post-financial crash basement.
As an example, Citigroup Inc. (NYSE:C) returned 39.64% to its shareholders last year — not 100.17%, but not bad either.
2. A really inspiring (or really terrifying) valuation
Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC)’s price-to-book ratio is currently 0.59. That’s either really great, or really scary.
It’s really great if you believe the superbank has completely turned itself around — cleaning up its balance sheet and refocusing its business model. If you believe this, you believe — at a P/B of 0.59 — Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) is a steal.
If, like me, you don’t entirely believe the bank has squared away all of the above, you see a P/B of 0.59 as a big red light, not a green one. Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE:WFC) has a P/B of 1.30, telling me nobody is seeing any giant bogeymen lurking in the bank’s operations.
3. Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) is slimming its workforce
In September 2011, announced it would lay off 30,000 workers in the following few years. That’s 10% of its workforce.
Having gone through layoffs myself and watched my father go through them when I was growing up, let me be the first to say how much I detest them. But B of A, along with many of its peers, got so big and so unwieldy in the 1990s and 2000s that cuts were almost inevitable.
The cuts are part of a bigger plan by CEO Brian Moynihan to streamline the bank’s operations, an unarguable necessity. JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) just announced it would be cutting up to 17,000 jobs — again, cutting out housing boom-and-bust related bloat. These are necessary, if tough, moves on both B of A and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM)’s part.
4. Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) might be nearing the end of its crisis-related payouts
The superbank just settled with government-owned housing giant Fannie Mae for more than $10 billion to settle soured mortgages, again left over from the housing boom. Some analysts — smarter than I, no doubt — have hailed this as the potential end of B of A’s crisis-related troubles, predicting the bank will be able to really reach its full potential now that the pesky financial crisis is behind it.