Some bank stocks rose on Wednesday above the ebbing tide of the last few days, even as interest rate jitters continued to make waves.
The best performers included industry favorites, such as Citigroup Inc. and J.P. Morgan & Co.
Other gainers included banking companies that rely heavily on fee income and trust operations, such as State Street Corp. of Boston; Northern Trust Corp. of Chicago; and New York's U.S. Trust Corp.
Citigroup rose 87.5 cents, or 1.76%, to $50.625; J.P. Morgan, $2.125, or 1.84% to $117.50; State Street Corp., $1.1875, or 1.80%, to $67.0625; and Northern Trust $1.0625, or 2.25%, to $48.25.
Meanwhile, the American Banker index of 50 largest banks rose 0.15% and the American Banker index of 225 banks rose 0.64%.
Long-held concerns that the Federal Reserve is likely to boost interest rates by as much as 75 basis points this year have depressed bank stocks substantially in the first few days of the year. The American Banker index of 50 largest banks has lost 8.63% since Friday's close, while the American Banker 225 has lost 11.07%.
"Some bank stocks moved into positive territory even though bond yields were up, noted Stephen Biggar, an analyst at Standard & Poor's Equity Group. Bank stock prices tend to move in the opposite direction of Treasury bond yields. On Monday the yield on the benchmark 30-year Treasury rose to 6.621%.
"Some value players could be coming into the group," said Mr. Biggar. "There have been some concerns about the high valuations in the technology sector. Some investors could be taking some money off the table and putting it into bank stocks."
But only some of them. Traders said that despite the gains in some bank stocks investors were still cautious. Average volume for the group was lower than normal, indicating that many investors were still waiting on the sidelines.
Adam J. Lewis, senior vice president and bank stock trader at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., said it was no surprise that Citigroup rose Wednesday. "Citigroup has been one of the darlings of the group, so it is the company that investors look at when the market is coming back."
On Wednesday, Keefe Bruyette analyst David S. Berry raised Citigroup's 2000 earnings estimates to $3.15, from $3.10. In a note to clients, Mr. Berry said he expected earnings at the Salomon Smith Barney unit to rebound from their depressed levels. The strong earnings results that it posted in November led us to a more optimistic outlook for Salomon Smith Barney than we originally had, he said.
In spite of the gains, bank stocks could continue to flounder for a while, market experts said.
"The bond yield is the highest it has been in several years and since the beginning of the year bank stocks are off by 9%," said Mr. Lewis. "That's a pretty nasty move on the downside. So just because we are having a snap back today doesn't mean that it will continue."
Mr. Biggar of Standard & Poor's agreed. "Bank stocks tend to fall before earnings are reported and then rally afterwards," he said. "No one will get a clear picture on the group until next week."