Can you bank on banks?

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With the backlash of subprime mortgage lending, it might pay to think twice about investing in banks. Not only did 71 percent report fourth-quarter 2007 earnings below expectations, 93 percent of consensus estimates were lowered for 2008 earnings, says Binney Wietlisbach of Haverford Investments. She says holding onto stocks where the bank pays a dividend will provide a buffer while the bank recovers. She thinks investors can bank on Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC; Price: $29.48), Bank of America (NYSE: BAC; Price: $42.16) and US Bancorp (NYSE: USB; Price: $32.29). All three have A-rated balance sheets and pay a dividend. She notes, “Wells Fargo and Bank of America both raised their dividends in the middle of the last financial crisis in 1990.” Charles Mizrahi, author of “Getting Started in Value,” says to look at banks with a high return on equity and diversified earnings and revenue. He says Northern Trust (NASDAQ: NTRS; Price: $72) is worthwhile below $60, Bank of Hawaii (NYSE: BOH; Price: $50) in the low $40s and M&T Bank (NYSE: MTB; Price: $90) at $75 or below.