In one of the most volatile days ever on Wall Street, bank stocks managed to outperform the broader markets throughout the session.

After trading down modestly for much of the morning, the Dow Jones industrial average lost as much as 168 points, or more than 3%, in midday trading over corporate earnings concerns and on panic selling following Monday's 161-point loss.

Then, just as swiftly, the Dow roared back into positive territory as investors took advantage of buying opportunities. The Dow finished up 0.17% for the session.

The broader Standard & Poor's 500 fell 0.23% Tuesday. The S&P bank index rose 0.21%, meaning bank stocks have outperformed the S&P by nearly 1% over the past two days.

"I have never seen anything like this," said Michael Stead, a portfolio manager with SIFE Trust Fund, of Tuesday's roller coaster trading. "But banks are doing quite well."

No bank exemplified the dizzying trend more than Citicorp, which fell more than 5% at one point during the day - a nearly $2 billion loss in market capitalization - only to race back and finish Tuesday up 1% at $77.375.

"Banks are a nice place to hide during a market downswing," said Michael Mayo, a bank analyst with Lehman Brothers Inc. "Banks in a bear market can perform well given their high dividend yields and stock repurchase program."

Indeed, NationsBank Corp. Tuesday announced it would repurchase 20 million shares over the next three years, or 7% of its total shares outstanding.

At NationsBank's closing price Tuesday of $79.125, down 12.5 cents, the buyback represents a $1.6 billion commitment on the part of the southern banking giant.

While the buyback is not the largest on record for a bank - Citicorp's current repurchase is worth roughly $4 billion - it reflects NationsBank's drive to woo investors.

Investors have not always treated NationsBank well, partly due to perceptions the bank is willing to make a large acquisition. But the buyback could convince investors the bank does not have such a deal in the works.

A large buyback like this would cause NationsBank considerable headaches in attempting a stock swap merger, said R. Harold Schroeder, a bank analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., because of Securities and Exchange Commission restrictions on buying back stock after mergers.

Among the market decliners Tuesday was Wells Fargo, which fell 50 cents to $227.625. The bank's earnings disappointed analysts, who had expected better results from the company in the first full quarter after it bought First Interstate Bancorp.

Nonetheless, Salomon Brothers analyst Carole Berger upgraded the stock to "buy," citing the "enormous earnings power of the combined Wells Fargo and First Interstate."

Lawrence Cohn of PaineWebber upgraded NationsBank to "neutral" from "unattractive," saying the company's asset quality had improved more than he had expected.

Money-centers, with solid earnings results and liquid stocks, fared well amid the hyper-trading Tuesday. The S&P money-center index rose 0.66%, including Chase Manhattan Corp., which rose 87.5 cents to $66.75, and Bankers Trust New York Corp, which rose 87.5 cents to $70.25.

By contrast, the S&P regional bank index fell 0.05%.

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