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Capital One: How I Beat the Best With a 37% Stock Rocket

Tickers in this article: BAC C COF I"BKX

(Adds Wednesday's market close information, updated returns and stock ratios.)

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- On some occasions, the obstructionists can be your friends.

When I was asked to pick a bank stock for 2012 as part of the 10 Best Stocks for 2012 series at InvestorPlace, I looked beyond the obvious choices of Bank of America (BAC) and Citigroup(C) , both of which had fallen significantly, in order to select a much more profitable bank that had suffered because of delays by regulators in approving two key acquisitions.

Through Wednesday's close at $57.79, Capital One was in first place among the 10 Best Stocks for 2012 at InvestorPlace, trailed by Turkcell(TKC) , which was selected by Charles Sizemore, a registered investment advisor who is also the founder and editor of the Sizemore Investment Letter . Capital One's shares are up 37% this year, while Turkcell is up 33%, closing at $15.66.

I chose Capital One on Dec. 16, 2011. The shares had outperformed most of the largest U.S. banks, returning 7% from the start of January 2011 to close at $43.05 on Dec. 15, 2011, while the KBW Bank Index (I:BKX) declined 27%, Bank of America plummeted 60% and Citigroup sank 45%.

Capital One's shares had pulled back 20% (on a total return basis, including reinvested dividends) from their closing 2011 high May 19.

At that time, Bank of America was trading for just 0.4 times tangible book value, while Citigroup was trading for half its tangible book value. Capital One was much more expensive in a stressed environment for bank stocks, at 1.4 times tangible book value, according to SNL Financial, and also was solidly profitable, with returns on average assets (ROA) ranging from 1.42% and 2.08% over the preceding five quarters.

So why pick Capital One, when Bank of America and Citigroup had so much potential for recovery, since they had already fallen so far? After all, going with "last year's losers" has been a fantastic strategy for 2012, with Bank of America's shares returning 109% through Wednesday's close at $11.55, while Citigroup was up 50%, closing at $39.55.

In December 2011, my inclination was to make a conservative pick of a company with a strong earnings track record, limited downside risk (because of strong earnings) and some sort of "edge," which for Capital One was the softness in the shares from the delayed acquisition approvals.

With all the negativity surrounding Bank of America as its mortgage putback demands mounted, and Citigroup, with investors mistrusting management's ability to turn the company around, these two stocks didn't appear to be solid long-term picks.

Capital One announced its $9 billion deal to purchase ING Direct from ING Groep (ING) on June 16, 2011. Then on Aug. 10, the company said it would buy HSBC's U.S. credit card portfolio, consisting of $30 billion in loans, for a premium of $2.6 billion, including a planned capital increase of $1.25 billion, which put some dilutive pressure on Capital One's shares.