First Niagara Financial Group Inc. climbed as much as 4.6 percent, the best performance in the KBW Bank Index, after senior managers, including Chief Executive Officer Gary Crosby, bought shares of the lender this week.

Crosby acquired 10,000 shares of the Buffalo, New York- based firm for $7.76 each and Chief Financial Officer Gregory Norwood bought an equal number for $7.60 apiece, according to regulatory filings yesterday. Executive Vice President Joe Saffire acquired 10,000 shares and board member Carlton Highsmith bought 15,000 shares, according to the filings.

A recent pickup in deals among regional banks, including BB&T Corp.'s Nov. 12 agreement to buy Susquehanna Bancshares Inc., is focusing attention on lenders that have underperformed. Even with this week's gains, First Niagara remains the worst- performer in the 24-company KBW index this year and reported a third-quarter loss of $657.2 million.

First Niagara's share price reflects "the positive views on M&A following the Susquehanna deal and the belief that other regional banks may start to dip their toe in the game," Matthew Kelley, an analyst at Sterne Agee & Leach Inc., said today in a phone interview. "The other thing is clearly the insider buying."

First Niagara advanced 3.5 percent to $8.09 at 2:28 p.m. in New York after earlier climbing as high as $8.17. The shares have declined 24 percent this year, compared with the 5 percent increase for the KBW index.

The lender cut its profit forecast for the fourth quarter last month and increased its reserves by $45 million to address a "process issue" that affected some deposit accounts. First Niagara has also said expenses will rise as it spends money to improve its technology systems.

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