Bank bonds generally stopped their slide Tuesday as spreads tightened a few basis points, but evidence of a turnaround from the selloff of the last few weeks was in short supply.
The improved spreads of some money-center bonds versus Treasury issues came despite a lower earnings estimate from First Union Corp. The Charlotte, N.C., bank said earnings this year will be in the range of $3.40 to $3.50 per share, down from $4.
Bids for Citigroup's 10-year global bonds were trading around 118, one trader said, as were 10-year Bank of America bonds. Ten-year Wachovia Corp. bonds tightened to 116, Chase Manhattan Corp. to 125, and J.P. Morgan & Co. to 128.
"Based on trading today, it looks like the buyers are back," said Thomas Flynn, a bank bond analyst for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter's Discover & Co. in New York. "Some people are doing some bottom fishing or feeling more comfortable."
During the last few weeks, bank bonds have been besieged by investor qualms, notably inflation fears spurred by the Federal Reserve's new bias toward a tightening of interest rates. The bias change came after the Labor Department reported May 14 that the consumer price index for April rose 0.7%.
The jitters have in part caused bank bond spreads to widen 10 to 15 basis points this month.
Investor queasiness was one reason that a bond spread index of 20 banks published by Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. widened Monday to 124, up from 108 on May 5.
Spreads are also wider because of a roll to the new 10-year Treasuries- the latest 10-year Treasurys are used as a benchmark against 10-year bank bonds-which were priced about 5 basis points cheaper.
The First Union report did little to add optimism to the markets, but unless there are "major ugly announcements from a variety of banks, scaring the bond market is probably done," said Eric Grub J. Grubelich, a bond analyst for Keefe.
Nevertheless, he said, until people "have the next happy thing to rejoice about, spreads will stay wider for the time being." Moreover, corporate spreads - which tend to drag bank bonds along - have been widening since earlier this month.
Still, though investors flinch at the first signs of a rise in interest rates, banks remain well hedged against potential fluctuation and while the overall credit status of banks remains sound, Mr. Flynn said.
"Bank paper is cheap," Mr. Flynn said. "It will be up to the market to determine how comfortable it is with the risks," such as Fed uncertainty and the consumer price index, he said.
At the end of the day, yields on 10-year Treasuries fell to 5.47%, down 1 basis point from Monday. Yields on 30-year bonds fell to 5.74%, down 1 basis point.