An unexpectedly positive report on U.S. economic growth helped push bank stocks to dizzying heights Friday, but some observers were skeptical that banks' shares will maintain their momentum.
Standard & Poor's bank index rose 1.26%, with some stocks approaching their 52-week highs, after the Commerce Department's first estimate of third-quarter growth in real gross domestic product came in at 3.3%.
That was far better than the 2.2% consensus estimate of 37 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. Inflation, according to the report, was close to a 40-year low. And the report quelled fears that the economy is heading for recession.
The U.S. economy "remains the strongest in a generation," President Clinton said.
The rally gained further momentum on news that the Group of Seven industrial nations are taking steps to head off a global financial crisis by establishing an International Monetary Fund credit line and pushing for more openness in financial markets.
Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin said the world "will work its way through" the economic crisis, "and we will return to stability and growth."
Exuberance over the economy overwhelmed other concerns. "Even if you believed that the market is overvalued," the surge in the market is causing short-sellers a lot of pain, said Carol S. Berger, who heads a financial institutions hedge fund at Berger Jackson Capital Management "There's a point when those investors just have to say 'uncle'" and start buying.
Gainers Friday included Chase Manhattan Corp., up $2.6875 to $56.8125; Citigroup, up $1.50 to $47; and Bankers Trust Corp., up $2.6875 to $62.8125.
Bank stocks also surged because some investors expect a swell of bank consolidation by the end of the year. Most banks, it is believed, will be too focused on the year-2000 computer glitch to undertake acquisitions in 1999.
Some market experts, however, were worried that the rally was overdone. "Stocks have run way too far and fast," said bank analyst Thomas D. McCandless of CIBC Oppenheimer & Co., who turned bullish about banks stocks in September.
"People are acting like there are no problems out there," said Mr. McCandless, who had been bearish on bank stocks for a year and a half. "They need to pull back."
He said investors are too confident about Brazil's attempts to fix its economic woes.
Ms. Berger was also dubious about Brazil. "If Brazil does what they say they are going to do, they are writing a ticket for a significant recession," she said.
"I don't understand the euphoria," Ms. Berger said. "The most alarming thing about this rally is that labor costs are going up and prices that companies get on their goods are going down. As they move in opposite directions there will be pressure on company profits. Now why would you buy into that news?"
Industry analyst Michael L. Mayo of Credit Suisse First Boston said that investors are banking on the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates. "If the Fed doesn't ease rates, many of these banks will retrace their steps."
Some of these multinational banks are not out of the woods yet, Mr. Mayo added. "We do not think all the bad news is out as it relates to global turmoil and multinational banks."