Top Three Regional Bank Stocks

Last week I wrote about a regional bank stock that has run afoul of regulators. This company, Community Trust Bank (Nasdaq: CBTI), seems to be having trouble growing revenues after giving up its reportedly “unfair and deceptive” fee policies.
My advice to avoid CBTI shouldn’t be taken as advice to avoid all regional banks. In fact, this often-ignored category of companies provides a relatively safe and promising investment opportunity.
The top three regional bank stocks offer superior yield and higher year-over-year growth rates than the top three too-big-to-fail banks. Just look at the table below.
Big banks used to be a source of reliable dividend income for investors. But this is no longer the case. Bank of America (NYSE: BAC), JP Morgan (NYSE: JPM) and even the much more risk-averse Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) no longer offers the safety or growth that it used to.
Enter the country’s regional banks.
This category of banks often focuses on one state or a cluster of nearby states. These banks are also devoted to the boring business of taking deposits and issuing loans, not the kind of risky financial instruments that almost sank the entire global financial system in 2008. That kind of business makes for safe and sustainable growth.
Here are the top three regional bank stocks.

Regional Bank Stock #1: Cullen/Frost Bankers (NYSE: CFR)

My colleague Chris Preston wrote about Cullen/Frost last week in his article about the top dividend stocks for summer 2014. As you can see from the table above, Cullen/Frost doesn’t offer the highest yield among the regional banks. In fact both Wells Fargo and JP Morgan offer a slightly higher dividend yield.
But when you compare the growth rates of the big banks to that of Cullen/Frost, this Texas-based bank emerges as the clear winner.
Cullen/Frost is also a dividend champion. It is known for having increased its dividend every year since 2000. Cullen/Frost is also highly regarded by dividend investors, as the bank did not have to cut its dividend during the financial crisis.

Regional Bank Stock #2: United Bankshares (Nasdaq: UBSI)

From 1998 until the financial crisis, United Bankshares raised its dividend by a penny every year. Since then the bank has raised its dividend every two years.
The West Virginia-based bank is doing very well, with an estimated 2014 growth rate over 12%. Wells Fargo, the fastest growing of the three big banks mentioned above, is expected to grow at only 6% this year. This means that United Bankshares is growing at twice that rate with estimated year-over-year growth of 12%.
Combine that growth with its dividend of 4.32%, United Bankshares represents the best of both worlds: growth and yield.

Regional Bank Stock #3: PBCT (Nasdaq: PBCT)

New England-based People’s United Financial pays the highest dividend of the regional bank stocks featured here. With a dividend yield of over 4.5% and an estimated growth rate of almost 12%, People’s represents a great investment opportunity.
Emerging from the financial crisis with tremendous strength, People’s was able to absorb smaller regional banks elsewhere in New England.
The result Peoples’ expansion is dominance in a financially stable region of the country known for its “old money.” This stability as well as the stock’s high yield and strong growth makes People’s my top regional bank stock.

Regional Bank Stocks: The Bottom Line

Gone are the days when investors can trust in the biggest financial institutions for safety, yield and growth. These institutions have simply grown too complicated for real safety and too large for meaningful growth.
But that kind of investment still exists. And it can be found in Cullen/Frost, United Bankshares and People’s United, the top three regional bank stocks.

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