Is BB&T a Buffett Stock?

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Warren Buffett attracts a lot of attention. As the world's third-richest person and most celebrated investor, thousands try to glean what they can from his thinking processes and track his investments.

While we can't know for sure whether Buffett is about to buy BB&T (NYS: BBT) -- he hasn't specifically mentioned anything about it to me -- we can discover whether it's the sort of stock that might interest him. Answering that question could also inform whether it's a stock that should interest us.

In his most recent 10-K, Buffett lays out the qualities he looks for in an investment. In addition to adequate size, proven management, and a reasonable valuation, he demands:

  1. Consistent earnings power.
  2. Good returns on equity with limited or no debt.
  3. Management in place.
  4. Simple, non-techno-mumbo-jumbo businesses.

Does BB&T meet Buffett's standards?

1. Earnings power
Buffett is famous for betting on a sure thing. For that reason, he likes to see companies with demonstrated earnings stability.

Let's examine BB&T's earnings history:

anImage

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Free cash flow is adjusted based on author's calculations.

Over the past five years, BB&T's earnings have shrunk somewhat, in large part due to increased provisions for loan losses. Despite the financial crisis and economic downturn, however, the company managed to remain profitable.

2. Return on equity and debt
Return on equity is a great metric for measuring both management's effectiveness and the strength of a company's competitive advantage or disadvantage -- a classic Buffett consideration. When considering return on equity, it's important to make sure a company doesn't have an enormous debt burden, because that will skew your calculations and make the company look much more efficient than it actually is.

Since competitive strength is a comparison between peers, and various industries have different levels of profitability and require different levels of debt, it helps to use an industry context. I'll be using a leverage ratio defined as assets divided by equity, which is more appropriate for banks. In the United States, about 9 to 12 times is considered normal.

Company

Leverage Ratio

Return on Equity (LTM)

Return on Equity (5-Year Average)

BB&T

9.3

6%

10%

KeyCorp (NYS: KEY)

9.1

10%

2%

Synovus Financial (NYS: SNV)

9.9

(15%)

(13%)

SunTrust Banks (NYS: STI)

8.8

3%

4%

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

Like many of its peers, BB&T has tended to generate moderately low returns on equity over the past few years. For a commercial bank, it has a pretty normal leverage ratio.

3. Management
CEO Kelly King has been at the job since 2008. Prior to that, he worked at BB&T for nearly three decades and held a number of jobs, including COO.

4. Business
The banking industry isn't particularly susceptible to technological disruption, but it can be susceptible to the risk that goes along with mind-blowing complexity and opacity.

The Foolish conclusion
Whether or not Buffett would buy shares of BB&T, we've learned that while the company generates only somewhat consistent earnings and reasonable returns on equity, it does exhibit some of the other quintessential characteristics of a Buffett investment: tenured management and a straightforward industry.

If you'd like to stay up-to-speed on the top news and analysis on BB&T or any other stock, add it to your stock watchlist. If you don't have one yet, you can create a watchlist of your favorite stocks by clicking here.

At the time this article was published Ilan Moscovitzdoesn't own shares of any company mentioned.You can follow him on Twitter@TMFDada. The Motley Fool owns shares of Key. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

Copyright © 1995 - 2011 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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