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) -- Goldman Sachs(GS - Get Report) reported weak revenue, Citigroup(C - Get Report) missed profit forecasts and Wells Fargo(WFC) merely matched estimates. In truth, JPMorgan Chase(JPM - Get Report) is the only major financial institution that has reported inspirational numbers, but even "J.P." has problems in its mortgage division.
Herein lies an ongoing dilemma. You can improve your balance sheet by offloading troubled assets and/or writing off poor quality loans. You can ensure a measure of profitability by limiting your employee overhead, maintaining double-digit credit card rates, having some success in trading volume and/or offering next-to-zero savings rates to depositors. Yet financial stocks will still see "fits" without a more potent level of lending to small businesses and individuals.
Lately, many readers have been devouring rapturous reports on the incredible prospects for the financial sector. Hypothetically speaking, economic expansion should encourage greater demand on the part of consumers and businesses alike.
On the other hand, the economic improvement is likely to be stronger for streamlined corporations than for families. Tech, energy, materials and industrials should help buoy stock averages, while higher-than desired unemployment and record foreclosures imply that borrowers will struggle to qualify.
(Why take chances with credit quality ... unless, of course, the government forces lending activity. Oh wait, didn't government direct and indirect involvement in the lowering of underwriting standards contribute mightily to the financial crisis?)
Scores of professionals are professing newfound love for
SPDR KBW Regional Banks(KRE),
SPDR KBW Bank(KBE) and
iShares DJ Financial Services(IYG). On the flip side, I am avoiding the hype surrounding the financial sector. Here's why:
Many Sectors Show Prerecession Revenue Records... Not Financials. Across the spectrum of different industries, you see a wide variety of companies earning more money than ever before. Names include
Intel(INTC) in technology,
ExxonMobil(XOM) in energy,
Vale(VALE) in materials as well as
Potash(POT) in agriculture. In many ways, these corporations are operating as well as they did before the Great Recession.
Can we say the same about the homebuilders? How about
Bank of America(BAC) or Citi? Other than the dirt-cheap valuation argument,
Homebuilders(XHB) is more of a trade than an investment.
The Dot-Com Bubble Is Worth Revisiting. The
Nasdaq 100 is often viewed as a proxy for technology, as is the Nasdaq 100 tracker,
Powershares QQQ(QQQQ). The QQQ is above the high reached during the 2003-2007, but it still requires another 94% to reach the pinnacle of 2000. Even after 10 years, the dot-com strain still lingers. (
Sun Microsystems ... then and now, anyone?)
Expect financials and real estate companies to suffer a similar fate due to the credit/housing bubble's impact. For reference, the SPDR KBW Bank requires roughly 130% to reach its first quarter 2007 high mark.