Investors in bank stocks mostly stood pat Tuesday after Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's testimony to Congress on the economy and financial reform.
Analysts said most of the action in bank stocks had occurred in a broad rally Monday in advance of the remarks. Mr. Greenspan said little to surprise investors, hinting that no action on interest rates is likely and signaling that the Fed is unlikely to change its opposition to broader powers for holding company subsidiaries. (See reports on pages 1 and 30.)
"Yesterday there was some optimism about Greenspan being able to comfort investors," said Kevin Timmons, banking analyst at First Albany Corp. "While he really didn't say anything to spook anyone, there is no real cause for comfort." Bank stocks "reacted by selling off modestly," Mr. Timmons said.
The Standard & Poor's bank index shed 0.24% and the Nasdaq bank index 0.08%.
After jumping Monday in anticipation of the comments, Chase Manhattan Corp. rose 87.5 cents, to $81.875; Citigroup $2.6875 to $58.125; and J.P. Morgan & Co. $2.3125, to $115.4375.
Other banking companies edged back, with Bank One Corp. shedding $1.0625 to $53.1875; First Union Corp. 43.75 cents, to $54; and KeyCorp 6.25 cents, to $32.3125.
Broader markets were generally unmoved by Mr. Greenspan's testimony. The Dow Jones industrial average was off 0.09%, and the S&P 500 fell 0.08%.
"His comments were basically neutral," said Arun Cumar, U.S. equity strategist for Lehman Brothers. "You could see an easing or a tightening, depending on which way the economy goes."
"For the stock market it is no gain on no news," Mr. Cumar said. "The Fed is not in the way of the market moving up."
Among thrifts, Astoria Financial was up 6.25 cents, to $46.625; Dime Bancorp shed 18.75 cents, to $24.8125; and Washington Mutual rose 25 cents, to $40.75.
Southtrust rose $3.0625, to $40.25, after the company said it would be added to the Standard & Poor's 500 as of Feb. 26.
Eric Rothmann of Stevens Inc. said he sees Southtrust's shares rising to $45 in the next few weeks.
With $38.1 billion of assets, Southtrust "is one of the strongest banks in the Southeast. It has generated 15% annual growth for the last five years," Mr. Rothmann said.
Also, the company "does not financially engineer its earnings," Mr. Rothmann said. "It prefers instead to use its excess capital for acquisitions."
Shares of Suffolk Bancorp were unchanged at $26, after the company said it planned to buy back 200,000 shares, or 3.3%, of its outstanding stock.
The stock of Mech Financial, the holding company for Mechanics Savings Bank in Hartford, Conn., was off 50 cents, to $30.75 after completion of a buyback plan for 5% of its outstanding stock.
Mech Financial president Edgar Gerwig said the action "exemplifies our efforts to enhance shareholder value."
Companies look to share buybacks as a way of increasing their stocks' price, because they leave fewer outstanding shares on the open market.