Instead, a good metric to use for banks is the price-to-tangible book value ratio -- or how much the bank is trading for relative to the value of its tangible assets. Both of these banks are currently trading at a discount to their tangible book values -- Bank of America by about 6%, and Goldman Sachs by a little more than 7%. So, the banks are pretty evenly matched in terms of valuation relative to tangible book value.
In general, when a stock trades for less than the value of its assets, it's fair to assume there's a reason. In Bank of America's case, one big reason for the low valuation is a lack of profitability. Thanks to the persistent low-interest rate environment and general lack of efficiency, Bank of America isn't as profitable as the market likes banks to be. During the most recent quarter, the bank produced a return on assets (ROA) of just 0.5% and a return on equity (ROE) of just 4%, well short of the industry's benchmarks of 1% and 10%, respectively.
Goldman isn't doing too much better, with a ROE of 6.4% during the first quarter, thanks to weakness in most of its businesses. The weak IPO market, lower M&A activity, poor trading revenue, and poor investment performance more than offset a reduction in expenses and led to the mediocre results. However, in Goldman's case, this seems more like a temporary setback than a lingering problem. As you can see, Goldman's profitability levels have been above the desired industry standards quite a bit in recent years, while this has simply not been the case for Bank of America, which has yet to prove its post-crisis profit potential.
Both banks have substantial risks investors should be aware of, and the most obvious one is that profitability could remain low. If interest rates remain depressed for longer than expected, it could be a lingering drag on profitability. Investment banking is a big part of both banks' business models, and trading revenue has been weak lately, which could also hinder the banks' profits if it continues as such.
Bank of America has substantial exposure to energy lending ($21.3 billion funded, $22.6 billion in unused credit lines), and there is concern that persistently low oil prices could lead to a wave of defaults. In Goldman's case, overall stock market weakness is a risk factor for several reasons. Not only would the stock likely decline with the market, but during weak markets, IPO and M&A activity tends to be low, plus the value of Goldman's assets under management would drop, leading to lower commissions and fee revenue.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the risks involved with an investment in these banks, but the point is, these are not low-volatility stocks, nor is the road to a higher valuation likely to be an easy one.
There's no question that both of these stocks are on the riskier side, but I believe this is more than made up for by their valuations. And, I happen to like both of these banks at their current prices, even after the recent rebound. If I had to choose just one, I'd pick Bank of America simply because I feel it has more upside as interest rates normalize and profitability approaches respectable levels.
A secret billion-dollar stock opportunity
The world's biggest tech company forgot to show you something, but a few Wall Street analysts and the Fool didn't miss a beat: There's a small company that's powering their brand-new gadgets and the coming revolution in technology. And we think its stock price has nearly unlimited room to run for early, in-the-know investors! To be one of them, just click here .
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.