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Regional Banks Add to Gains on Christmas Eve

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Most regional bank stocks fared well on Christmas Eve, ending with gains after an abbreviated holiday trading session.

The broad indices all ended higher, after the U.S. Census Bureau said durable-goods orders for November rose 3.5% from the October, when they dipped 0.7% in part because of a two-week partial shutdown of the federal government.  Economists polled by Reuters on average had expected November durable goods orders to rise by 1.5%.

New orders excluding transportation rose by 1.2% during November, ahead of the 0.8% increase expected by economists.

The Census separately reported that sales of new single-family homes during November rose 2.1% from October, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 464,000, ahead of the rate of 440,000 expected by economists.

But last week's decision by the Federal Open Market Committee to taper the Federal Reserve's "QE3" purchases of long-term bonds by $10 billion per month could put a damper on home sales during 2014.

The Mortgage Bankers Association on Tuesday said mortgage applications for the week ended Dec. 20 had declined by over 6% from a week earlier.

A significant increase in long-term interest rates greatly curtailed the wave of home refinancing during 2013, and long-term rates are expected to keep climbing during 2014 as the Fed makes further cuts in its bond purchases.  The market yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds was up 5 basis points Tuesday afternoon to 2.99%.  That's up from 2.85% on Dec. 17, the day before the Fed announced its tapering decision, and up from 1.70% at the end of April.

The KBW Bank Index (I:BKX) was up 0.2% to 69.07, with all but two of the 24 index components showing gains.  First Niagara Financial Group (FNFG - Get Report) of Buffalo, N.Y., was the leader among large-cap banks, with shares rising 1% to close at $10.53.

First Niagara's shares over the past three trading sessions have been inching back from their 5% drop last Thursday, when the company announced that interim CEO Gary Crosby had been named permanent CEO.

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