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Jim Cramer was forced to re-evaluate his ranking of the banking business on Wednesday when Bank of America released its shocking quarterly report.
"It smacked of what I can only call 'normalcy,' meaning all of the one-time hits and worries finally seem to be behind them. What's left is a growth machine that is no longer as dependent on the Fed raising interest rates to generate a big earnings boost. For Bank of America, the Chicago Cubs of banking, it's a whole new ballgame," the "Mad Money" host said.
Cramer has mainly had three concerns with Bank of America over the years. It always appeared to him that it was in trouble with all sorts of governmental agencies, leading to colossal legal fees. Second, these lingering regulatory issues meant that it could not return as much capital to shareholders as other banks. And third, without a rate hike, he didn't think there would be real earnings power because the company was too dependent on higher rates for profits.
The most recent quarter addressed all three concerns.
Cramer was relieved to see that its legal expenses have dropped dramatically, and the bank now has excess of capital. It would be crazy for the company not to buy back stock once the Fed gives it the go ahead. Bank of America also confirmed its lending, wealth management and trading businesses were all very strong.
As for JPMorgan, even though it had terrific loan growth, Cramer was not in love with the story it told. It emphasized weakness in trading that could continue into the fourth quarter.
"If we get a rate hike or two you will totally regret selling JPMorgan's stock, but I understand why people are downbeat, since the company simply wasn't upbeat enough about its own story," Cramer said.
Read more from Mad Money with Jim Cramer
Then there was Wells Fargo, which Cramer was relieved to see its earnings clean as a whistle. Cramer remained enthusiastic about its consistent growth, high level of profitability and strong loan and deposit growth. He warned that it would be a bad mistake to dump the stock now.
"However, the plain fact is that expectations were too high and the numbers failed to exceed those expectations," Cramer added.
At the end of the day, it seemed that the love of Bank of America on Wednesday had more to do with the fact that it was a C student that finally got an A. Still, Cramer thinks the stock could be on the way up and climb to $18 over time, or higher if the Federal Reserve tightens.
"The others? I say stay the course if you own them, but recognize that it will take a rate hike before they even begin to challenge their old highs," Cramer said.