At the end of a tumultuous week that saw stocks flirting with their first bear market in 10 years, analysts were casting about for value among bank stocks.
Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co. in Arlington, Va., lowered estimates for three banking companies, while upgrading their ratings because of the weeks market selloff. Analyst John B. Wimsatt upgraded Bank of America Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., and Wachovia Corp. of Winston-Salem to buy from market perform. He also upgraded Wells Fargo & Co. of San Francisco to buy from accumulate while reiterating his buy ratings for FleetBoston Financial Corp. and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.
All these banking companies have 20% upside potential or more, Mr. Wimsatt wrote in his research note. While we acknowledge the markets volatility and recognize that downward pressure could continue in the near term, we believe that current levels offer investors attractive entry points for these businesses.
At the same time, Mr. Wimsatt cut estimates for all these companies because of cooled expectations in their capital markets business, as well as credit quality erosion.
Although we based our original estimates on what we believed to be conservative expectations, the current environment outlook clearly calls for us to pare back estimates even further, he wrote.
Mr. Wimsatt cut his first-quarter per-share earnings expectations for Wachovia by 2 cents, to $1.25, and his full-year target by 10 cents, to $5.25. He pared 3 cents from his estimate for Wells Fargos earnings for the year, to $2.82, while leaving his outlook for the quarter unchanged at 67 cents.
He slashed 10 cents from his first-quarter estimates for FleetBoston, to 75 cents, and 25 cents from his outlook for the year, to $3.40.
Bank of America has come under scrutiny for its exposure to syndicated loans, but Mr. Wimsatt said in his note that his main concern is its 28% drop in revenues from businesses that are sensitive to the market downturn. He left his first-quarter outlook for the company unchanged at $1.06, but lowered his estimate for the year by 13 cents, to $4.82.
Analysts are far from agreeing on Bank of America. In his research note, Andrew Collins of ING Barings reiterated his hold rating for the company and argued that its long-term growth prospects are somewhat limited. But Richard X. Bove of Raymond James & Associates reiterated his bullish strong buy rating on Friday, and Henry C. Dickson of Lehman Brothers reiterated his buy a day earlier.
Bank of Americas shares rose 6.26%, to close at $52.78 Friday. Wachovia climbed 2.87%, to $57.72, and Wells Fargo gained 3.25%, to $45.43. Morgan Chase rose 7.2%, to $41.71.
Elsewhere, the overall market ended the week in a more bullish mood. The American Banker index of 225 banks rose 5.85% on Friday, and its index of to 50 banks was up 5.27%.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average and Standard & Poors 500 gained ground and put the bears back into hibernation, at least for the time being. The Dow Jones rose 1.23%, while the S&P was up 1.99% and the Nasdaq composite 1.63%.