Tuesday Promise: Skousen’s safe bank

By Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe, July 28, 2008

I mentioned that I wanted to get to this one today — it’s probably not in time for most of you to catch it in the Monday email alert, but here it is anyway.

Mark Skousen is touting a bank stock for his Forecasts and Strategies newsletter, and more specifically he’s predicting that the bank will have good earnings tomorrow (Tuesday) and the stock will climb as a result.

Before you get too excited, note that Skousen has done this before, several times — he has predicted earnings surprises by a few different companies, including ABB, and his track record on these kinds of predictions isn’t necessarily any better than a coin flip … which is probably about what you would expect, given that no one is very good at consistently predicting earnings surprises.

But he also says this bank is an enticing buy, largely because it avoided the subprime slime and has a great growth profile with operations in South America and Portugal.

Here are the clues we get:

“But one international bank never got greedy and never strayed from traditional banking. And a result of their sound business practices they are thriving.

“Earnings are up 22%… operating margins are at 38%… and the company’s management is forecasting 15% earnings growth for the next two years!

“This is a safe bank too. It has a market cap of $112 billion and sells for only eight times earnings.

“What’s more, banks in this remarkable stock’s country are required to have higher reserves for loan losses than other countries. That means this blockbuster bank is secure against a further economic slowdown.”

So what are we dealing with here? It reports earnings on Tuesday — and it will be early in the morning, at 10am CET, so well before the US markets open. That means Monday is the only chance to buy this one before earnings should you so desire.

And the stock is ….

Banco Santander (STD)

That is, by the way, probably the most unfortunate ticker symbol I’ve seen in some time — one might find it hard to imagine bragging at a cocktail party that “everyone should get STD, like me.”

Banco Santander is a very large Spanish bank, and it doesn’t have much in the way of North American operations, so it has avoided direct exposure to the subprime banking mess here, and I believe it has a relatively small exposure to the kinds of toxic debt that have caused massive writeoffs for their competitors, but I’m a little out of my league when looking at a bank’s books, so take that with a grain of salt. They have, at least, not taken nearly the same kind of hit that many other big banks have — they’re down a bit over the past year, but not dramatically when compared to their competitors.

And they are growing faster than you might expect for such a large bank, with analysts predicting that even with some slowing growth that they will continue to grow at 15% a year for the next five years. If they’re right with their crystal balls, that’s pretty good for a $100+ billion bank.

Here’s a little more of what Skousen said in his ad:

“While U.S. banks are promising shareholders that they will return to traditional banking, this bank never left! More than 80% of the company’s profit comes from retail banking. And they have virtually zero… let me repeat that again… virtually zero exposure to subprime mortgages.

“You see, rather than trying to make a quick buck in subprimes, this thriving bank has been busy doing something else… growing internationally. They are now diversified with major operations in Brazil, the U.K., Chile, Mexico and Portugal.

“What’s more, business is booming. During their last earnings announcement, the company reported that their profits rose 37% on revenue of $11.6 billion!”

I wouldn’t necessarily assume that STD is safe as houses, however — just looking at its main markets gives some pause, since they are active throughout Western Europe but primarily in Spain, the UK, and Portugal, in addition to their Latin American businesses. And most people seem to believe that the UK and Spanish economies, both also largely dominated by residential real estate for the last decade, are the next dominos to fall in the continuing collapse of consumer debt.

I don’t know if that will really happen, but certainly the UK is already feeling some blues, and the Spanish economy is slowing down, bringing Spanish whining about high Euro interest rates and perhaps some regret about being tied to a German economy that won’t let them slash rates to save economic growth. So the fact that they’re not in the US doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re safe, though it’s possible that they’re safer.

What will happen with STD on Tuesday morning? I have no idea — I can tell you that Mark Skousen thinks you should jump in now to catch the earnings bump, but he won’t be buying the shares for you so it’s still really your call.