Data source: YCharts.com. Chart by author.
The main reason Bank of America's shares are so cheap is because its profitability is abysmal. The bank earned $15.9 billion last year. That equates to a return on assets of 0.74%, which is well below the 1% return on assets threshold that Bank of America has set as its target.
Things were even worse in the first quarter of this year. Thanks largely to lower trading and investment banking revenues, Bank of America generated a return on assets of only 0.5%.
What's important to appreciate, however, is that Bank of America's profit is rapidly improving, despite its setback in the first three months of this year. The year 2015 marked the first time since the financial crisis that it's earned a semi-respectable profit in all four calendar quarters.
Data source: Bank of America. Chart by author.
There's every reason to believe that this could be the beginning of a string of improved quarterly and annual earnings. In the first case, Bank of America is now largely done with the oppressive legal costs it incurred as a result of the crisis. All told, they added up to $65 billion since 2010.
In the second case, Bank of America, like most other banks, is primed to benefit from higher interest rates. It estimates that it will earn $6 billion more in annual net interest income if short- and long-term rates increase simultaneously by 100 basis points, or 1%. And if interest rates revert to 2002 levels, then it could earn as much as $20 billion more a year in after-tax income, holding all else equal.
The point is this: Bank of America's shares still seem to have a lot of room to run. It's anybody's guess when they'll head meaningfully higher, but owning its stock now will allow your portfolio to benefit from this trend if/when it materializes.
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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.