The average person is probably pretty leery about investing in financial stocks right now. They're leery about investing in general, let alone in financials. And who could blame them? Many have questioned some of the tactics of the big financial institutions, especially in the wake of the major collapse in 2008. And though the economy has recovered a bit since then, the economic outlook is still far from rosy. Given these things, nobody would blame people from thinking they should stay away from financial stocks.
However, one such stock might be worth taking a look at: JP Morgan Chase (NYSE:JPM). JPMorgan - currently trading at around $36 - has certainly not been an exception to the tumultuous past few years, but it has come out relatively unscathed as compared to some of its competitors. While it may seem strange to recommend investing in a company whose CEO is currently being questioned by Congress, hear me out. In fact, I think his testimony is all the more reason to get behind his company. Given the success of the testimony of CEO Jamie Dimon, as well as positive signs from some investors, I recommend investing in JPMorgan.
Last month, JPMorgan announced it lost over $2 billion in the span of six weeks. Normally a company losing money wouldn't be met with a Congressional hearing, but it was the way the company lost the money that alarmed the folks on Capitol Hill. CEO Dimon admitted the money was lost through a risky portfolio that was meant as a hedge against other company activity. You could make the argument that this would have flown under the radar in most years, but in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, lawmakers are hypersensitive to these sorts of investments. As such, Dimon was summoned to Capitol Hill to be grilled by lawmakers. And by all accounts, Dimon performed brilliantly. He apologized, completely accepting responsibility for engaging in investments that were too risky. He was also quick to point out, however, that no money coming from customers or taxpayers was lost. Many were immediately impressed by his testimony, including one trader, Joe Najarian.
"He was a master," Najarian said to CNBC. "He was apologetic when he needed to be; he described the circumstances very well. And senators who went after him aggressively found they weren't properly armed."
Dimon also made the brilliant move of announcing that company executives who were responsible for the enormous losses will most likely have some of their pay revoked. Though such a move would be unprecedented for the company, Dimon said under company policy pay can be taken from executives for "exercising bad judgment." While this isn't a huge deal financially, it is a great move from a public relations standpoint. People want to see bank executives be held accountable for their actions, and a CEO like Dimon accepting responsibility and being willing to revoke the pay of his employees is a great move for JPMorgan's image.
As such, I would expect the stock to climb, at least in the short-term. But the company may be quite profitable in the long-term as well. First, let's look at JPMorgan relative to its competitors right now. JPMorgan took home $90 billion in revenue last year, compared to $77 billion for Bank of America (BAC), $66 billion for Citigroup (NYSE:C). and $40 billion for Barclays (NYSE:BCS). JPMorgan's net income was also tops among those companies. And as mentioned before, JPMorgan came off relatively unscathed as compared with many other financial stocks in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) is also looking strong going forward, but two factors make it less attractive than JPMorgan. One, it is much more expensive. And two, it has a more negative image in the minds of the public compared to JPMorgan. So, it seems JPMorgan is in great shape going forward relative to its competitors.
Admittedly, things aren't all rosy for JPMorgan, as regardless of how well Dimon does with his testimony, it's never good to be grilled by lawmakers. The company will have to do its share of damage control. And it may have to prepare itself for a potential credit downgrade from Moody's. But JPMorgan won't be alone in getting downgraded, and it is to be expected given the current climate and the $2 billion loss. I think while being downgraded will affect its stock price in the short-term, overall the company should increase in value in the long run. Another key factor to the strength of JPMorgan is its generous 3.6 percent dividend, which looks great compared to its competitors. As noted, the company did far better on its Federal Reserve stress test than Citigroup, who only offers a 0.1 percent dividend.
Clearly, it's a volatile time for the economy as a whole, let alone just financial stocks. So, if you think you're going to avoid risk by avoiding financials, you're wrong. Sure, it's risky to get involved with big financial stocks right now, but it's also risky to buy pretty much anything but gold.
If I'm going to invest, I want to invest in a company that has a strong, respected CEO like Jamie Dimon. His testimony on Capitol Hill left nearly everyone impressed; it seems he's handled losing $2 billion in a risky investment better than anyone could. Given Dimon's testimony and the fact that JPMorgan hasn't suffered nearly as much as others from the 2008 financial crisis, I am confident the stock will do well going forward. There's certainly a lot of buzz from investors about JPMorgan right now, so it might be better to get in sooner rather than later. Over the long-term, I'd feel great about investing in the country's biggest bank.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.