Some investors braved the turbulent market Tuesday to purchase shares in a handful of banks that analysts expect to meet third-quarter earnings estimates handily.
Shares of Wells Fargo & Co., Fleet Financial Group Inc., Bank of New York Co., and several other banks attracted investors even as the Standard & Poor's bank index fell 2.22% to an 11-month low of 572.26.
Shares of Wells Fargo dipped 12.5 cents, or 0.33%, to $37.50; Fleet 62.5 cents, or 1.73%, to $35.50; and Bank of New York 43.75 cents, or 1.25%, to $34.6875.
"Some of this is a flight to quality," said Katrina Blecher, a bank analyst at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. "People would rather be in defensive issues, which are companies that are faster-growing."
Edward Najarian, a bank analyst at First Union Capital Markets, agreed.
"There is a high confidence level that the companies will meet consensus expectations for third-quarter earnings," said Mr. Najarian."We expect a mixed bag in the third quarter. Most banks will reach the number, but there will be more that fall short a penny or two of expectations thanin prior quarters."
Wells Fargo has a combination of strong revenue growth and excellent credit quality, said Ms. Blecher. "If a company is not relying on double-digit loan growth to get to earnings per share, then that is a company that you want to be in."
Diana P. Yates, a bank analyst at A.G. Edwards & Sons, St. Louis, agreed. Wells Fargo "is one of the few companies which is involved in a sizable merger where we did not reduce our estimates," she said.
Confidence in Fleet is on the rise again because its merger with BankBoston Corp. is expected to close soon, Ms. Yates said.
"Once a merger starts getting to the final approvals, some of the weakness seems to exit the stock."
Bank of New York will make a strong showing in the third quarter, she said, citing the company's solid fee income.
The Standard & Poor's bank index has fallen almost 10% since the start of the Labor Day weekend. Investor anxiety is at full throttle, said analysts, because of concerns about rising interest rates, the year-2000 date change, loan growth, and credit quality.
Investors on Tuesday were rattled by Apple Computer's warning that it would miss third-quarter earnings estimates and a fall in the dollar against the yen. "The world has deserted the banks," said John Lyons, president of Keefe Managers, a financial hedge fund.
"For some, that usually means an opportunity. But investors do not want to go back into the market too early. No one can fathom a pattern to this market. Every time you think that you have it figured out, you are wrong."
Christopher A. Bamman, a bank analyst at Advest Group, said investors are overreacting.
"We have two good quarters of bank earnings out there, and the stocks look cheap," Mr. Bamman said.
"Third-quarter earnings are not going to fall off the face of the earth. But it seems that the negative perception is doing more than the fundamentals."