As bank stock investors await quarterly earnings reports, they have shielded the sector from the overall market's roller-coaster ride.
Fears about corporate earnings have pounded the stock market in recent days. But bank earnings, aided by low interest rates and improved credit quality, may be a bright spot.
"The market is saying that banks may be the only real positive chorus to sing in terms of strong earnings, "said Robert A. Bonelli, a portfolio manager for Ernst & Co, in New York." "Any one who haw a position in bank stocks, especially regional banks, would be foolish to sell off before the third-quarter announcements."
The general market plunged Friday, but banks stocks were mixed with no big losers and a few gainers. This continued a pattern that started on Tuesday. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 39.45 points, to a 1992 low of 3,136.58, as investors moved funds to the bond market where yields are rising.
The split began when the Federal Reserve did not deliver an expected cut in interest rates last week. With no sign that the Fed will cut rates, investors are focusing on fundamentals of corporations, including earnings.
One bank stock that has already benefited from strong earnings is Crestar Financial Corp., Richmond, Va. Crestar's shares rose $1 on Friday to $30.75, after reporting that net income rose to $21.5 million in the third quarter, about nine times the results of last year.
The shares also benefited from an upgrade in the Richmond, Va., company's credit rating by Moody's Investors Service on Thursday.
Jump Seen for Bankers Trust
One of the stocks that investors hope will jump sharply in the next few weeks on the strength of its earnings report is Bankers Trust New York Corp.
Shares of the bank were unchanged Friday, after falling $1.625 Thursday as investors took profits. The share price has fallen about $2 in the past two weeks, but most investors expected a big rebound.
"I think that when the earnings come in, they will be surprisingly good because of currency trading and deriviative-products trading," said William Fries, a portfolio manager at USAA, an insurance company in San Antonio.
"Bankers Trust is a position-taker," said Frank X. Suozzo, an analyst with S.G. Warburg & Co. With the turmoil in the currency markets, the odds are it made some pretty good money this quarter."
Mr. Suozzo believes the bank could report $300 million in trading revenues this quarter, about a third of its total revenues -- much higher than is widely expected.
Other big currency trading banks, including Citicorp and J.P. Morgan & Co., have indicated that trading revenues will not be substantially higher than in previous quarters.
Morgan, for example, has told analysts that it cut back positions in currencies because the overall market had thinner volume and, therefore, more risk than expected.
Even without a big third-quarter trading profit, investors believe Bankers Trust presents a good value. At $16, the shares are trading at eight times trailing earnings -- which is a bargain.
And the shares have a 4.4% yield that could rise if the company increases the dividend, which is possible next quarter.
Citicorp's shares gained 37.5 cents Friday, to close at $14.875 buoyed by the message of chairman John Reed, who has been visiting money managers as part of his road show to sell a $650 million issue of convertible preferred stock.
Mr. Reed told money managers in Boston Friday that he plans to bring in a top operating officer to help him turn the bank around. He also told investors that he plans to sell $200 million of foreclosed properties in the next two or three quarters and that chargeoffs will be down next year.