In contrast to the market's recent wild swings, banks and other stocks traded in slow motion Tuesday as investors awaited Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's next words on interest rates.
Mr. Greenspan and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin are scheduled for an unusual joint appearance today before the House Banking Committee to discuss the health of the global economy.
"Right now things are relatively quiet," said John MacNeil, equity strategist at Salomon Smith Barney. "No one is eager to get in front of the testimony."
In a day of modest action, the blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average was up 79.04 points, or 0.99%, while the broader-market S&P 500 gained 0.77%. Recently, gyrations of 200 points or more in either direction on the Dow have been the norm. The Standard & Poor's bank index gained 11.60 points, or 2%, as the Nasdaq bank index gained 1.15%.
Investors will be scrutinizing today's testimony for fresh signs that the United States is adopting an active role in quelling global financial troubles and that the Fed will be mulling lower rates at its monetary policy meeting on Sept. 29.
During a Sept. 4 appearance at the University of California at Berkeley, Mr. Greenspan hinted that the central bank's cautious policymakers now have an open mind about rate cutting.
And President Clinton seemingly telegraphed his own suggestion for lower rates on Monday, urging greater cooperation to alleviate global financial ills in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Speaking in New York, Mr. Clinton said steps are needed to prevent problems in Asia, Latin America, and Russia from compromising the United States' financial well-being. Mr. Rubin, however, dismissed the notion of any rate-cutting pressure on Mr. Greenspan.
As a follow-up to Mr. Clinton's remarks, the Group of Seven issued its own statement late Monday, vowing that the large industrialized countries would stimulate their economies if need be to thwart a global recession.
The Group of Seven comments, apparently prepared with cooperation from Mr. Greenspan, bolstered impressions on Wall Street that the Fed is leaning toward a rate cut, analysts said.
Indeed, some market professionals are expecting several rate cuts in coming months and are urging investors to revisit bank stocks.
"We're positioned to be very, very bullish" on financial institution shares over the next six to 12 months, said Anthony Polini, banking analyst at Advest Inc.
"Everything that could explode has already exploded," Mr. Polini asserted. "Now it's time to go back in."
Advest is recommending regional banks like Comerica Inc. and Fleet Financial Group, which lack overseas exposure and have demonstrated tight underwriting standards that will help insulate them from a possible economic downturn, Mr. Polini said.
The market's uncertainties have not stopped plans for a stock conversion by one small midwestern thrift, Lincoln Federal Savings Bank of Plainfield, Ind.
Lincoln, which has assets of $304 million, will price its shares at $10 each, which is a bit lower than prices fetched by comparable thrifts this year.
Depending on demand, Lincoln will issue 5.8 million to 7.5 million shares, with much of the proceeds going to the newly formed holding company to aid expansion. The company will seed its employee stock ownership plan with about 8% of the shares and also set aside $2 million to $3 million in stock to set up a charitable foundation.
With the foundation, Lincoln Federal would join a growing number of converted mutual thrifts, such as New York's Staten Island Bancorp, who have set up community assistance organizations as part of their public offerings.