The Bottom for the Banks

There are many people calling for a bottom to banking stocks, and I must admit, it is a tempting place to play. I never thought Fifth Third would trade so low. Or Keycorp. Royal Bank of Scotland, sorry, I sold you early in 2008; yes, I thought you would fall. When does the excessive leverage finally eliminate the CEO?

Here’s the challenge for investors: on the one hand, you have declining earnings per share in the near term, from losses and capital raises. But when have equity prices fallen enough to discount the future losses?

I am being cautious here. I own no banks.

Here’s another way to think about it — after all of the bad debts are written off, and bad banks eliminated, what kind of earnings stream will be attractive?

I’ll use the homebuilders as an example here — at troughs, they sometimes trade for half of written-down book value, The question becomes the final side of the book value after the writedowns.

I would still be cautious here, but markets are discounting mechanisms — we are getting closer to a bottom in the banks; we are not there yet.