The 7 Safest Banks in America

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The Safest Banks you can trustBy Jon C. Ogg and Samuel Weigley


Moody's recent downgrade of 15 of the world's largest banks, along with JPMorgan Chase's (JPM) multibillion-dollar trading loss on risky derivatives, make it clear that certain big banks aren't as safe as depositors might have hoped. Still, consumers have to keep their money somewhere.

While the FDIC guarantees your deposits, it only insures so much, and it offers no help to investors if a bank craters. So to help consumers find the best places to stash their cash, 24/7 Wall St. has compiled a list of the safest banks. The criteria were strict, complicated ... and you're probably only interested in the results.

If you're curious about the details of their rating process, read on after the gallery. Otherwise, without further delay, here are the seven safest banks in America:

The 7 Safest Banks in America

BOK (BOKF) is the smallest bank on the list with a $3.8 billion market value and $26 billion in assets. The bank holding company is based in Tulsa, Okla., but its branches operated under several names in other states: Bank of Albuquerque, Bank of Arizona, Bank of Arkansas, Bank of Kansas City, Bank of Oklahoma, Bank of Texas and Colorado State Bank and Trust. BOK is worth about 12.5 times earnings and is valued at 1.3 times book value. The return on equity is 11%, and it offers a 2.7% dividend yield to the common holders. Shares are trading around $56.00, and Wall Street analysts have a target above $59.00.

By 24/7 Wall St.

Photo: Les Stockton, Flickr.com

KeyCorp (KEY) is the one exception in our list to our rule about share prices under $10. Its other metrics more than make up for this. It has a market cap of just $7.12 billion against some $87 billion in assets. It operates in 14 states throughout the Rocky Mountain, Northwest, the Great Lakes and Northeast regions. To make its appearance on this list even more impressive, KeyCorp is headquartered is in Cleveland, where a large number of now-troubled loans were issued. The bank has a return on equity of 9.2% and pays out a 2.7% dividend yield. Shares trade around $7.50 but have a target price of $9 from Wall Street.

By 24/7 Wall St.

PNC (PNC) is based in Pittsburgh and has almost $300 billion in assets, with over 2,500 branches and almost 7,000 ATMs in 14 states. It has a market cap of $31.01 billion, and its stock is valued at 10.6 times earnings and at less than 0.9 times book value. The return on equity is 8.9%, and the company pays out a 2.73% dividend. Shares are trading at under $59, but Wall Street is eyeing a price of $70.50. PNC was even strong enough financially to close its National City acquisition at the end of 2008 when there was so much fear in the financial markets. PNC also owns almost a quarter of the great asset-management firm BlackRock (BLK).

By 24/7 Wall St.

M&T Bank Corporation (MTB) is based in Buffalo, N.Y., and now has more than $79 billion in assets. Excluding any small purchases made recently, M&T had nearly 700 branches, 2,000 ATMs and a presence in eight states. The market cap is $10.12 billion, its P/E ratio is 12.7, and its price-to-book value ratio is only 1.07. M&T has a return on equity of 9.5% and pays out a dividend of 3.5% to common stockholders. The stock is trading just north of $80 a share, but analysts have set a target price of about $90. Berkshire Hathaway owns almost 5.4 million M&T Bank common shares worth more than $400 million.

By 24/7 Wall St.

Photo: Afagen, Flickr

U.S. Bancorp (USB) is often overlooked as a money-center bank because it is a super-regional located in Minneapolis. But it's the fifth-largest commercial bank in the United States and caters to millions of consumers. With $341 billion in assets, more than 3,000 branch locations and more than 5,000 ATMs, its operations are spread out over 25 states in America. Berkshire Hathaway owns some 69 million shares worth more than $2.1 billion. The bank's market cap is $59 billion. It is worth about 10 times earnings and 1.6 times book value. The return on equity is very high at 16%, and it offers a 2.5% dividend yield to the common holders. Shares are trading around $31.50, and Wall Street analysts have a target of about $34.25 on this great, safe bank.

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Despite the media attention surrounding the JPMorgan's (JPM) multibillion-dollar trading loss, the firm is still in good shape compared to many of its peers. It has a fortress-like balance sheet with about $2.3 trillion in assets, and CEO Jamie Dimon has said the only thing that could lead to the bank's failure is a collision of the Earth and Moon. Despite a share price decline following news of the "London Whale" trading loss, the company still has a sizable market cap of $135.17 billion. Shares trade at less than 8 times earnings and only about 0.7 times book value. The return on equity is 9.8%, and the company pays a dividend yield of 3.4% on the common stock. While the bank shares are trading at just over $36, analysts value the company at $47 a share.

By 24/7 Wall St.

Wells Fargo (WFC) is the undisputed safest bank in America now that JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) has come under scrutiny -- even if Chase has about $1 trillion more in assets. With some 6,200 storefront branches, more than 12,000 ATMs and an asset base of over $1.3 trillion, it has a presence in almost every state. Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway owns close to $13 billion worth of the common stock, and his stake keeps rising. The market cap is a whopping $171 billion. The shares trade at less than 9 times earnings and at almost 1.2 times book value. The return on equity is just above 12%, and it offers a 2.7% dividend yield to the common holders. While shares trade at around $32.50, Wall Street analysts value the bank at almost $38 per share.

By 24/7 Wall St.

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The Methodology

24/7 Wall St. focused on the universe of the money-center banks, super-regional banks, and banks with retail branches that encompass several states

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We screened for banks with a market capitalization of more than $2 billion. We further screened for banks whose share value is be less than 14 times earnings (P/E ratio). The share price to book value had to be less than 2.0. The bank had to have a minimum return on equity of 8% or more. To demonstrate how confident a candidate bank is, it had to pay its common holders a dividend yield of 2.0% or higher.

We also only chose financial institutions with an investment grade credit rating by ratings agencies, and Wall Street analysts had to value the bank's share price above the current price. We also didn't consider regional banks with fewer than 100 branches. All but one stock of the banks on our list trades above $10 per common share. We also gave preference if Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A) is an owner of the common shares.

We remained focused on the top 50 banks by assets with a large retail banking presence, so even though the fiduciary banks of State Street Corporation (STT) and Bank of New York Mellon (BK) fit our initial screening criteria, they were not included. The 'problem banks,' which include Citigroup Inc. (C) and Bank of America Corporation (BAC), were excluded even though it would seem nearly impossible that depositors would have any risk with them. We also chose to avoid regional banks that are located in the troubled Southeast and the entire Pacific Coast where so many faced financial troubles from housing and lending during and after the recession. We left off some of the large banks that have been involved very recently in mergers and acquisitions. Finally, we absolutely eliminated banks where we had concerns about their viability and survival during another recession.

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