Though most bank stocks have been battered by recent market gyrations, over-the-counter stocks have been largely unaffected, according to a new study by SNL Securities.
An index of about 200 bank stocks that trade over the counter posted a 15.46% price increase from Jan. 1 through Sept. 17, while an index of exchange-traded bank stocks fell 9.75%. And since bank stocks hit their peak July 20, SNL's Pink Bank Index has dropped only 3.83%, while exchange- traded banks have lost nearly one-quarter of their value.
Companies whose shares trade over the counter, known as "pink companies," are typically smaller and have far fewer investors than concerns whose stock is listed on Nasdaq or another national exchange. The average bank share trades 28 times more frequently than does a share of $86 million-asset Progressive Bancorp of Pekin, Ill.
Trading shares over the counter has pros and cons. On the pro side, pink banks seem to be sheltered-at least at the outset-from rapid market downturns.
Alan Boughton, director of bank research for SNL Securities, said the thinly traded bank stocks have proved a safe haven for investors during times of uncertainty.
"By investing in these smaller, less-liquid stocks, you're somewhat hedged against a downturn in the markets," he said.
But pink banks' stock prices may not appreciate as quickly as exchange- traded companies be-cause of less-frequent trading. Pink banks posted an average market-weighted price-to-earnings multiple of 19.72 at Sept. 17, and S&P 500 companies reported a 24.24 average at June 30-the most recent data available in each case.
Robert W. Zapp, chief executive officer of Bank of Kentucky Financial Corp. in Florence, said that until recently he viewed his bank's over-the- counter trading universe as a disadvantage. Bank of Kentucky's share price was depressed, he said, because too few shares traded hands.
Low trading volume was also a problem for CSB Bancorp of Millersburg, Ohio. Douglas D. Akins, CSB's chief executive, said shareholders ready to sell their stake in the $300 million-asset company often had trouble finding a buyer.
"They used to have to call me and say, 'Do you know anyone who wants to buy 500 shares?'" he recalled.
Both companies announced stock splits in April to make more shares available. That has led to higher trading volume, and both companies' stock prices have appreciated at least 100% since Jan. 1.
Mr. Zapp and Mr. Akins said they hope their boards approve additional splits until they each have at least four million shares outstanding-the minimum required to trade on Nasdaq.