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Battered bank stocks rebound

August 9, 2011 |  2:54 pm

Banks stocks, badly beaten down by fears of a double-dip recession, worries about continued mortgage losses and the debt crises in Europe and the United States, rose sharply higher Tuesday as investors decided a buying opportunity was at hand.

The BKX index of 24 diverse bank stocks was up more than 7%, with some of the largest and most hammered banks significantly higher.

Bank of America Paul Sakuma AP Retail giant Bank of America Corp., which has been hit particularly hard by fears that it can't get a handle on its mortgage troubles, was up $1.09, or 16.7%, at $7.60. The stock had plunged by 20% on Monday in the highly volatile market.

Wells Fargo & Co., also highly exposed to consumer lending, rose $1.85, or 8.1%, to $24.78. Citigroup Inc., which has huge exposure to foreign markets, jumped $3.87 to $31.82, a 13.8% gain, as Chief Executive Vikram Pandit said his bank, extensively restructured after the financial crisis, has "unparalleled resources" to withstand the current storms.

Shares of JPMorgan Chase & Co., regarded as among the strongest banks, rose $2.34, or 6.9%, to $36.40.

The bank stocks jumped early in the day but backed off after Standard & Poors, which helped trigger a market sell-off four days earlier by downgrading the long-term credit rating of U.S. Treasury debt, expressed concerns that bank profits will be depressed by the slow economy, sovereign debt problems and the continuing mortgage and housing fiasco.

The bank shares then resumed their climb after the Federal Reserve, expressing concerns about the weakening economy, said it probably would hold its benchmark interest rate near zero for another two years.

A two-week sell-off in bank stocks had accelerated sharply Monday. It was prompted by investors who, recalling the near-meltdown of the financial industry in 2008, have come to believe banks "can go under or be sold off in pieces for pennies," said Mike Nozzarella, managing director at the Tarbox Group, a Newport Beach investment manager.

Tarbox had been telling its clients that the downturn in stocks represented a buying opportunity. Several clients had called on Monday, "giving us the permission to purchase some of these bank stocks if we felt it was prudent," Nozzarella said.

"The reality is, these banks are the bedrock of our financial system," he said. "JPMorgan Chase originates millions of loans every year, and is part of the lifeblood of this economy."

Rochdale Securities bank analyst Richard X. Bove took a dimmer view, saying shifting global economic currents and the debt crises are illustrating to investors that the United States and Europe -- and their big financial firms -- are in decline. Bove saw Tuesday's rally as simple bottom fishing.

"You can't have the market go down 10 out of 12 days without some deciding, gee, these stocks are really cheap so I better get back in."

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--E. Scott Reckard

Photo: Bank of America shares have been extraordinarily volatile. Credit: Associated Press / Paul Sakuma

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