Buy US Bancorp (USB)

03/26/2010 1:40 pm EST


Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor,

I’m taking this stock off Jim’s Watch List and adding it to the Jubak’s Picks portfolio today, March 26. Unfortunately, the stock is up roughly 18% since I added it to the watch list, climbing from $22.01 on December 15, 2009 to $26.13 as of 1 p.m. ET on March 26. But with this one I haven’t been waiting so much for a pull back in the stock’s price as for convincing evidence that the turn in what has been a rising tide at banks of write offs and reserves for delinquent and bad debt is only a quarter or two distant—and not way off in 2011. (A buy of U.S. Bancorp also increases my exposure to the U.S. stock market, which I think will outperform the rest of the world’s markets over the next few months. See my post )

I saw signs of that turn in bank earnings reports for the fourth quarter and in credit trend reports for January. The numbers showed that banks that had maintained decent credit quality controls even as peers granted loans to anyone who had a pulse were either seeing an actual improvement in the delinquency rates or seeing the increases in that rate drop significantly.

Today’s report out of Fitch Ratings on February trends in credit card debt pushed me to this buy.

For the credit card market as a whole in the month credit card charge offs dropped and delinquency rates continued to improve.

Measured by Fitch’s 60-day delinquency index, late payments fell another 0.06 percentage points to 4.44%. Charge offs on prime-rate credit cards dropped 0.1 percentage points to 11.27%. The drop would have been larger except that some banks, Citigroup (C), for example, continue to see rising charge off rates even as other banks show improvement.

Why are charge off and delinquency rates—and the turn in these rates—so important? Well, think what happens to a bank’s earnings when the bank stops increasing reserves for future losses out of current earnings? You’ll see a big spike in earnings as these deductions shrink on the bank’s income sheet. That’s the turn I’m looking for and that, for some banks, I think is only a quarter or two away.  For the turn to arrive, the U.S. economy doesn’t have to get stunningly better. It just has to stabilize.

 And why US Bancorp? The bank has one of the industry’s best returns on equity before the financial crisis and I think a return to the days of 20% return on equity is certainly possible in the not too distant future. During the crisis the bank has remained committed to its goal of increasing its reach and it has been one of the FDIC’s (Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.) best customers for the assets of troubled banks. In the first quarter of 2010, January, for example, the bank closed its deal with BB&T (BBT) to buy the Nevada branches of the failed Colonial Bancgroup. Also in common with most big banks US Bancorp has relatively little exposure to the commercial mortgage problem that still hangs over the country’s smaller community banks.

 As of March 26 I’m adding these shares of Jubak’s Picks with a target price of $31 a share by September 2010. This buy reduces the cash position in Jubak's Picks to roughly 12%.

Full disclosure: I own shares of US Bancorp in my personal portfolio. I will buy more shares three days after this buy is posted.
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