Is now a good time to buy Commonwealth Bank of Australia shares?

It has been an incredibly turbulent time to be a shareholder of Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX: CBA). In the middle of March 2015 the share price looked set to break through the $100 mark for the first time.

But quite the opposite has happened since then. In just a little under 12 months the shares of Australia’s biggest bank have lost over 20% of their value, much to the dismay of shareholders.

I was very surprised to learn that year-to-date Commonwealth Bank is the worst-performing bank out of the big four with its 9.5% decline. Especially when you consider all the troubles that Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ASX: ANZ) has posted this year. ANZ shares are down 7.3% for the same period.

Incidentally, Westpac Banking Corp (ASX: WBC) has been far and away the best performer by just about breaking even for the year. Finally, National Australia Bank Ltd (ASX: NAB) is down just short of 7% so far in 2016.

In my opinion now could be a great time to buy the shares of Commonwealth Bank, especially with a long-term view.

A key measure of profitability for a bank is its net interest margin. Currently Commonwealth Bank has the highest net interest margin amongst the big four. If it can maintain this level it could go some way to helping it beat market expectations of 4.4% annual earnings growth for the next couple of years.

If the company can achieve this and not have to lower its payout ratio, then shareholders can expect growing dividends in the future. According to CommSec, the market expects a full-year dividend of 420 cents this year and 432 cents in 2017.

At present its shares are priced at just under 14 times estimated forward earnings. This does mean shares trade at a slight premium to the rest of the big four, but I feel the earnings growth and net interest margin justify this.

There is of course downside risk for shareholders to consider. There has been a lot of talk in the past few weeks about a collapse in the housing market. This would be a catastrophe for the whole economy, but the banks would bear the brunt of it.

Finally, although its chief executive officer Ian Narev hit back at speculation it may need to make a cut to its dividend, it could be out of his control if even tougher capital rules were introduced in the future. A cut to its dividend would most likely result in a share price decline.

Foolish takeaway

I believe there is a lot to like with Commonwealth Bank at this price. In the short term there are likely to be many ups and downs. But if you take a long-term view, I believe eventually we will see the share price breaking through the $100 mark at long last.

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Motley Fool contributor James Mickleboro has no position in any stocks mentioned. Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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