3.6 Reasons Why Lloyds Banking Group PLC Could Be Very Cheap

Towards the end of last year, I called sell on Lloyds Banking Group (LSE: LLOY) (NYSE: LYG.US). In my view, the UK-focused bank was already fully valued, and better opportunities were available elsewhere.

Was I wrong?

As an investor, it’s sometimes worth taking a fresh look at a firm’s valuation, in order to try and understand it better.

A classic value investing technique is the PE10 valuation — a version of the P/E that divides a company’s current share price by the firm’s average earnings per share (eps) over the last 10 years.

The PE10 smooths out yearly fluctuations in profits, and can be a good way to highlight good companies that are going through a bad patch.

Lloyds’ PE10 is 3.6!

From 2004-2008, Lloyds made bumper profits. Profits fell in 2009, and the bank reported a loss every year from 2010 until 2013.

However, such were the size of Lloyds’ 2004-8 profits, that even allowing for four consecutive years of losses, Lloyds has ten-year average eps of about 20p, giving a PE10 of about 3.6 — an amazingly low figure.

Is Lloyds a buy?

Lloyds’ finances look fairly strong. The bank’s common equity tier 1 ratio, a key regulatory measure of a bank’s ability to absorb losses, rose from 10.3% at the end of 2013 to 12.0% at the end of September 2014.

City investors tend to view 10% as a key safety level, so this was good news. However, the big question is whether Lloyds’ profits can ever return to pre-crisis levels.

In 2007, Lloyds reported peak annual earnings of 58p per share. I don’t think we’ll see that level of profit again for at least a decade, but I reckon that the bank’s 2008 earnings of 14p per share are a realistic medium-term target.

The latest City forecasts for 2015 suggest Lloyds could report earnings of 8.2p per share this year. If the wider UK economy continues to recover, then I reckon that over the next 2-4 years, Lloyds’ earnings per share could rise to between 10p and 15p.

This would put the bank’s shares on a prospective P/E of between 5 and 7, at today’s share price, suggesting a buying opportunity.

Was I wrong about Lloyds?

I no longer think that Lloyds’ shares are too expensive, but the lack of a reliable dividend is still a problem for me — we don’t yet know when Lloyds will be allowed to restart dividend payments.

In my view, there are still better buying opportunities elsewhere in today's market.

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Roland Head has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.