For a little more than a year financial stocks have solidly outperformed the market, holding their earnings as investors fled the technology sector for more stability, but Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. says the streak may end soon.
In a report issued Friday, Francois Trahan, a sector strategist at Brown Brothers, noted that long-term interest rates, which have been edging higher, probably will keep rising. Mr. Trahan has repeatedly said that financial stocks are influenced by long-term rates more than they are by short-term rates, which the Fed has been lowering.
Over time, the single most important variable driving the relative performance of the financial sector has been the direction in long-term yields, and this cycle is about to turn, he wrote.
The implication of a trough in long-term yields is that we have likely seen the peak in relative performance for much of the financial sector for the cycle, Mr. Trahan stated. He rates the financial service sector market weight minus and the technology sector overweight.
Not all share his view.
I dont think financials have peaked, said David W. Allaire, portfolio manager at Imperial Financial Services Fund.
Regional banks are among those with upside potential, Mr. Allaire said.
Financials in general have always done well in the months following interest rate cuts, he said. Regionals have room to grow.
Asset quality might bring unpleasant surprises as credit quality continues to deteriorate, Mr. Allaire said. But he added that some of these problems should already be priced into the stocks. At the same time, spread income should continue to rise, he said.
Mr. Trahan sees better things ahead for some financial stocks, particularly those of diversified companies.
Rising liquidity, a high rate of money growth, and central banks across the globe following the Feds lead should contribute to an exceptional year in equity markets, he wrote. This is why the brokerage firm Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and the asset manager Neuberger Berman Inc. are on Mr. Trahans focus list of stocks that show good promise.
Mr. Trahan is not the only one with a favorable assessment of Neuberger Berman. Michael Freudenstein, an analyst with J.P. Morgan Securities Inc., initiated coverage on Thursday with a buy rating.
In our view, the companys crown jewel, Private Asset Management, will continue to capitalize on one of the fastest-growing and most attractive asset management segments high net worth, Mr. Freudenstein wrote. He added that volatile markets conditions and wealth destruction of the past year have shined a friendly light on professional money management services.
Neuberger Berman issued a warning on June 6 that per-share earnings for the second quarter could fall short of the First Call/Thomson Financial analyst consensus of 71 cents, which has dropped to 69 cents since the warning.
Mr. Freudenstein said he still expects Neuberger Berman to meet the 71-cent projection for the second quarter and said he expects it to post earnings per share of $2.95 for the full year, which would be up 2% from last year and match the analyst consensus. Next year its profits should grow 10%, to $3.35 a share, he wrote.
On Friday Neuberger Berman lost 1.9% while the American Banker index of 225 banks fell 2.28%.