hope it is merely a pause in the recent rise, and that there will be a sustained rally later this year.
Last week an index of major thrifts tracked by Salomon Smith Barney rose 3.65%. The gainers included Houston's Bank United Corp. up 10.82%, New York's Astoria Financial Corp. 8.5%, and Seattle's Washington Mutual Inc. 7.59%.
And the week before that, the index gained 1.6%, with Bank United up 5.4%, New York-based GreenPoint Financial Corp. 4.18%, and Dime Bancorp, also of New York, 4.14%.
The gains followed weeks of decline for the index, which tracks 14 large thrifts. Analysts credited bargain hunters for the reversal.
"The stocks had gotten so beaten up that they started attracting bottom-fishers," said Thomas O'Donnell, thrift analyst with Salomon.
He said the Federal Reserve's decision at its last meeting not to raise interest rates also helped the group.
The thrift group is likely to move in fits and starts for the time being, Mr. O'Donnell said. "That's not a bad thing. We'll see sporadic spikes as a prelude to a sustained rally."
He is one of a small group predicting a recovery for thrift stocks.
Other analysts say thrifts will continue riding into a headwind. Among other things, rising interest rates have dried up much of the mortgage refinancing market that was a key source of profitability. The group is also being pushed down by fears that the Fed will raise rates before the end of the year.
"I'm not wildly enthusiastic about thrifts," said Kenneth Posner, an analyst at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. "They tend to trade with interest rates."
"It's hard to get real excited about the group with the mortgage banking environment the way it is," said Kevin Timmons, an analyst at First Albany Corp.
Still, other analysts said some thrifts stand out as especially attractive.
Jon Vacko, banking analyst with Duff & Phelps Credit Rating Co. of Chicago, said he likes GreenPoint.
The company is beginning to realize the benefits of two acquisitions -- Headlands Mortgage Co. and the manufactured-housing business of Bank of America Corp.
The deals "added product diversity, geographic diversity, and improved the company's revenue stream," Mr. Vacko said.
At the same time, GreenPoint is beefing up its core operations.
"There is a real focus on improving fee revenue at the New York consumer bank," Mr. Vacko said.
To this end, the thrift has been adding products, including a debit card and installment loans.
"There is much more of a revenue focus now," Mr. Vacko said.
Besides GreenPoint, Mr. Posner of Morgan Stanley said he likes Golden West Financial Corp.'s strategy of "sticking to its knitting."
Golden West is a "very good underwriter and originator of adjustable-rate mortgages and has a very efficient deposit business," he said.
And Mr. Timmons of First Albany praised Connecticut-based Webster Financial Corp. as being well-positioned. It "has built a lot of brand recognition in the state," he said.
Webster has also taken steps to be more competitive by becoming more like a commercial bank, adding commercial and industrial loans on the asset side and checking accounts on the liability side.
"By investing in thrifts at their current prices you can't help but be successful over the long haul," Mr. Timmons said.