Bank stocks held their own Wednesday, bucking ominous words from Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan and earnings shortfalls in the technology sector that drove blue-chip shares more than 100 points lower.
The Fed may act to raise interest rates if the economy does not continue its slowdown, Mr. Greenspan reiterated in his second day of testimony before Congress.
But bank stocks largely shrugged off the warnings, which came while he was speaking to the House Banking Committee. Analysts said shares absorbed their pummeling Tuesday during Mr. Greenspan's first day of testimony, before the Senate Banking Committee.
"Banks sold off more broadly than the market" said Fred Cummings, banking analyst McDonald & Co. "Now you're seeing some comeback."
The Standard & Poor's bank index added 0.11%, and the Dow Jones industrial average was off 0.67%. The Nasdaq bank index gained 0.5%, and the S&P 500 gained 0.08%.
Investors were discerning on Wednesday, raising some bank shares while punishing others. BankAmerica Corp. added $1.50, to $94.5625, and Chase Manhattan Corp. was gained $1.50, to $73. But two other highly regarded companies saw their shares fall. Northern Trust Corp. was off $1.25, to $76.125, and Star Bank Corp. $1.1875, to $71.4375.
Investors will become even more choosy, Mr. Cummings said.
"We are seeing increased differentiation in performance and in choices by investors," he said. "Banks may not trade as closely as a group as they did in past years."
Stock buyers are becoming more sophisticated about banking companies that report earnings gains, but are doing so on one-time revenue increases.
Investors will look for good performance based on sustainable earnings, he said.
Analysts are also losing patience with companies that they feel are muddying their numbers.
Banc One Corp. dropped 8% on Tuesday, after reporting results that were complicated by special charges such as integration fees, and one-time gains from actions like branch sales. Shares slid an additional $2.8125, to $53, on Wednesday as analysts critiqued the quarter.
Nancy Bush of Ryan, Beck & Co. described the numbers and their presentations as virtually "indecipherable" and said management should begin being more open with the investment community.
"If you're going to report a quarter that looks like death warmed over and will be subject to all types of interpretations, let people know in advance," Ms. Bush said.
Ms. Bush still recommends purchasing the shares because of their relatively low price and the underlying value of the organization.