Amid the stock market's dramatic tumble, the chief executive and other top officers at TCF Financial Corp. took a bold step: They bought shares in their own company.

According to regulatory filings, chairman and CEO William A. Cooper and other TCF executives bought about 300,000 shares in the Minneapolis bank last Friday. Mr. Cooper acquired "nearly half" those shares, according to a press release.

TCF's share price has fallen 24% since July 17, and that decline "created an attractive investment opportunity," the company said in a statement.

Few other bankers are "buying on the dip," however.

Despite exhortations from many analysts that bank stocks are undervalued, bankers and bank directors, who presumably know their companies better than anyone, appear to be avoiding shares in their companies.

Rather, most insiders have been selling stocks ever since the market started to turn sour in mid-July.

For example, on Aug. 3, D. Paul Jones Jr., chief of Compass Bancshares, sold 20,000 shares in his company.

He now owns about 695,000 shares. Compass declined to comment.

Edward E. Crutchfield, chairman and chief executive at First Union Corp., sold 40,000 shares on July 23 at $61 per share, or about $2.44 million worth. He still owns 546,000 shares.

A First Union spokesman said the sale, the first allowed for company executives in nine months because of restrictions related to a merger, was to finance a "personal real estate transaction" for Mr. Crutchfield.

Mellon Bank Corp. chief Frank V. Cahouet sold 36,000 shares of his stock on Aug. 20. He still owns about 1.5 million Mellon shares.

A spokesman for Mellon said the sale was "related to tax obligations."

Thomas M. Garrott, chief executive at National Commerce Bancorp., sold 50,000 shares on Aug. 13. He owned over two million as of March. National Commerce declined to comment.

David A. Spina, chief operating officer at State Street Corp., sold 182,000 shares in his company the week of July 20. A spokesman said Mr. Spina was engaging in a "cashless transaction" designed to actually increase his holdings in the Boston banking company.

Though a handful of other bankers have started buying shares in their companies in recent weeks, none have dipped into their own pockets nearly so deeply as TCF's Mr. Cooper.

Fleet Financial Group chief executive Terrence Murray bought 4,000 shares on Aug. 28.

Other buyers include Stephen A. Hansel, the chief at Hibernia Corp., who bought 10,000 shares Aug. 25, and Star Banc Corp. chief Jerry A. Grundhofer, who bought 7,000 shares Aug. 28. SunTrust Banks Inc. chief L. Phillip Humann acquired 15,000 shares Aug. 20.

In market news, financial stocks returned to Earth Wednesday after posting stellar gains a day earlier, reflecting continued investor skittishness over unstable economic conditions globally.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 155.76 points, to 7,865.02, a 1.9% drop. The Standard & Poor's bank index dropped 2.8%. Among big banks, Citicorp fell 5.5%, to $93.25 and NationsBank Corp. fell 5.0%, to $53.75.

Investment banks were hit particularly hard, with shares of Merrill Lynch & Co. falling 10.4%, to $59.125, after the brokerage reported what analyst called an unexpectedly high $135 million trading loss for July and August. Estimates and ratings were cut across the board, and Warburg Dillon Read analyst Thomas H. Hanley rated Merrill "hold" in new coverage.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.