Call them canny or crazy, but some analysts are making a big pitch for bank stocks while the market continues to pummel all equities.
As stocks continued sliding on Thursday with the financial sector hit especially hard, John Adams of Adams Harkness & Hill upped his ranking on State Street Corp. to "attractive" from "market perform." Shares ended the day up 62.25 cents, to $51.5625.
At Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., analyst Joseph Famoso raised his rating on Independent Bank Corp. of Rockland, Mass., to "buy" from "market perform," while Daniel Meyer boosted his ranking for Merchants Bancshares of Burlington, Vt., to "attractive" from "market perform."
Independent closed at $15.75, up 75 cents for the day; Merchants lost 25 cents, to close at $21.75.
Upgrades are perhaps most conspicuous when widespread selling is under way, putting stocks in the spotlight and urging investors to make considerable purchases. The pronouncements run counter to silences or even downgrades by analysts who feel the market is trending downward and taking everything in its wake.
To be sure "market psychology is obviously against" buying on an upgrade right now, Mr. Adams said.
But he contended that "investors do not have the time to thoroughly understand their companies anymore" and are instead buying and selling on "sound bites of information."
State Street has been especially oversold on erroneous perceptions, Mr. Adams said.
Mr. Famoso contended that tough times require analysts to be particularly visible and vocal. "Where is the value added if you remain quiet during a turbulent period?" he asked.
Analysts "must always be looking for unique opportunities," he asserted.
Thursday shaped up as a significantly adverse day, with broad markets continuing down on weakness from abroad and anticipated heavy selling in advance of the Labor Day weekend.
Beyond international developments, bank investors had to take account of the Senate Banking Committee's decision to postpone its vote on this year's financial modernization bill-a move that could herald difficulties for industry consolidation.
The decision to postpone the vote, largely because of unsettled issues over Community Reinvestment Act requirements, "doesn't help, but I doubt it's the primary reason" financial stocks fell, said Yun Jae Chung, portfolio manager for Bessemer Trust Co.
Investors are skittish, "waiting for the other shoe to drop" in the form of more bad news from overseas, Ms. Chung said.
Indeed, merger partners Citicorp and Travelers Group seemingly have the most at stake from a delayed vote, and Citi fell $10.25, to $98.25; while Travelers dipped $3.375, to $41.125.
But the declines were not out of line with broad sales of equities. Bankers Trust Corp. dropped $6.5625, to $66.9375; J.P. Morgan & Co. $6.50, to $88.75; Bear, Stearns & Co. $3.1875, to $36.25; and Merrill Lynch & Co. $3.8125, to $64.
The Standard & Poor's bank index shed 3.05% and the Dow Jones industrial average 1.29%. The Nasdaq bank index slid 1.56% and the S&P 500 0.83%.
Some investors continued looking for bright spots to justify purchases. Shares of Fleet Financial Group leaped more than $2 in morning trading, after the settlement of a patent infringement suit filed by Meridian Enterprises Corp.
But Fleet gradually dropped back, closing at $70.4375, off $1.25 for the day.
Banc One Corp. held onto its gain, rising 31.25 cents, to $41, after disclosing plans to buy the credit card portfolio of Chevy Chase Bank.