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Can Regional Brokers Keep Outperforming?

Stocks in this article: SF SWS RJF

However, it recently reported earnings per share of 52 cents for the October-December quarter, beating the Wall Street consensus of 35 cents, according to Thomson Reuters.

Earnings per share rose 11% vs. the same period in 2007 even though net revenue fell by 3% to $664 million for the company's first quarter. From Jan. 20, the day before the announcement, through Feb. 5, the stock was up about 42%.

"We avoided most of the direct damage through our conservative business practices" for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, Thomas James, the chairman and CEO of the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based company, told analysts in January.

However, the first quarter reflected "an increasing weakness in our private client group, our largest business segment."

As befits a company with a diverse portfolio of services, Raymond James was able to offset declining retail commissions and fees with rising investment banking revenue from merger-and- acquisition fees. The company also enjoyed a big jump in the fixed-income revenue.

Despite the strong showing, "numerous industry headwinds persist that should pressure earnings in coming quarters," says a recent report by Devin Ryan of Sandler O'Neill & Partners.

Ryan has a hold rating on the stock, as do the handful of other analysts following the firm. The analyst doesn't own shares, and the firm doesn't have an investment banking relationship.

"We continue to look for signs of stability in the credit and equity markets to become more constructive on the earnings outlook and on Raymond James Financial's shares," Ryan adds. "We expect material upside will exist for both in a more normal market."

And like many of its peers, Raymond James Financial requires a reworking of the term "regional" brokerage. It does business in every state, many Canadian provinces and several other countries.

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