How Long Can Big Banks Ignore Breakup Pressure?

| About: JPMorgan Chase (JPM)

While big banks like JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) continue to trade at huge discounts to book value, balance sheets are recovering among the regionals and traders are starting to notice.

An example can be seen in my nearest regional, SunTrust (NYSE:STI). (Full disclosure: I live in Atlanta. You might want to consider doing the following exercise with a regional bank near you. Most will stack up favorably.)

STI's moves to strengthen its balance sheet have drawn another 4% pop in the stock today, which now trades at 71% of book value. (JPM, by contrast, trades at 48% of book.) STI's two-day gain, its price increase just since Wednesday, now stands at about 10%.

The reason can be seen in what for banks is blocking and tackling -- the cash flow. Positive cash flow was over $2.2 billion for the quarter ending in June and speculators are betting on another increase, bidding shares up to a P/E of 18.69, double that of JPM.

What shareholders are increasingly finding is that basic banking is more profitable than the casino-like activities of the big banks, and that a breakup will unleash a huge amount of value to shareholders. The big banks continue to resist this for political reasons, but the question is: How long can they in the face of this financial pressure?

JMP Securities calls STI the top pick among U.S. financials right now, and calls JPM overvalued. If you're an optimist regarding JPM you might want to start speculating on that breakup sometime next year, but it's the only reason to buy the stock.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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