Jittery investors sent most stocks lower for a second straight day, but some regional bank stocks eked out small gains on opportunistic buying.
Among those who bucked the market trend, Amsouth Bancorp was up 81.25 cents, to $60.1875; BB&T Corp. gained 93.75 cents, to $65.50; and Mercantile Bancshares rose 87.5 cents, to $54.125.
Citicorp fell 50 cents, to $148.50; Comerica shed 56.25 cents, to $64; and First Union Corp. was down 31.25 cents, to $60.4375, continuing slides that began Monday, when bank issues overall surrendered more than 2% of their value.
On Tuesday, most financial institution stocks were caught in an up-and- down session as investors first bought shares and then retreated, fretting about higher interest rates and lower corporate profits. The Dow Jones industrial average finished the day off 18.68 points, after rising 89 points in early morning trading.
Market watchers expect volatility to continue and see buyers of bank stocks refocusing on industry fundamentals instead of takeover prospects in coming days.
The market will tend to react positively "only to that which is a definite, verifiable event," said Anthony R. Davis, banking analyst at SBC Warburg Dillon Read.
He said the market's pattern will bring the best banks to the fore. "It's a very healthy behavior pattern on the part of investors," Mr. Davis said. "They are rewarding companies that delivered earnings growth and not rewarding those that didn't."
PNC Bank Corp., which had a lackluster first quarter, fell $1.3125, to $57.875, despite announcing plans to buy up to 10 million of its 300 million outstanding shares.
And Norwest Corp., which delivered in line with analysts' estimates but continues to show weakness in its corporate finance operations, fell 50 cents, to $37.6875. A late day announcement of the beginning of buybacks of up to 10 million shares, or 1.3% of the total, failed to turn the tide.
But some exceptions still exist. Wells Fargo & Co. can't shake its momentum as one of the most talked-about merger candidates. Its shares rose $1.6875, to $360, even as investors digested the San Francisco banking company's less than stellar first-quarter earnings.
Zions Bancorp. was one of the day's more impressive gainers, rising 81.25 cents, to $48.875, on positive comments by analysts.
The Salt Lake City banking company is becoming a solid presence in the Midwest and West with acquisition deals such as the one for the California branches of Sumitomo Bank, analysts said.
"Disciplined acquisitions will spur earnings growth, along with the company's commitment to improving core fundamentals," said Steven R. Schroll, thrift analyst at Piper Jaffray Inc.
Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. also upgraded Zions shares, to "attractive," from "market perform," citing higher estimates and a recent pullback in price.
Overall, the Standard & Poor's bank index was up 0.36%, and the Dow Jones industrial average dipped 0.21%. The Nasdaq bank index slipped 0.17%, and the S&P 500 edged down 0.13%.
Thrifts gained a bit of ground Monday. Roslyn Bancorp was up 81.25 cents, to $28.25, after the New York thrift got permission from the state's superintendent of banks to repurchase 2.1 million shares, or 5%, of its outstanding common shares in the next 12 months.