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Bank Stocks Sink Again, Led by First Niagara

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- First Niagara Financial Group's (FNFG - Get Report) was again the loser among major U.S. banks on Monday, with shares sliding 3% to close at $8.81, adding to Friday's loss of nearly 12%.

At least two analysts downgraded First Niagara to neutral ratings after CEO Gary Crosby made a surprise announcement of a major four-year investment program to improve the company's technology and financial performance. First Niagara has more than quadrupled in size over the past five years through a string of acquisitions that have been dilutive to shareholders.

Please see Should You Wait for First Niagara to Get Its Act Together? for more on First Niagara's planned transformation, financial performance and prospects for the stock.

The broad market continued its decline, following international markets lower on continued concerns over a slowdown of emerging economies. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI) was down 0.26%, while the S&P 500 (^GSPC) pulled back 0.49% and the NASDAQ Composite (^IXIC) fell 1.1%.

Turkey's central bank said it would hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday, at which it could consider a significant hike in interest rates to defend its currency.

Despite the international market uncertainty over the past few trading sessions, the Federal Reserve is expected to continue tapering its monthly purchases of long-term bonds, following the meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday of the Federal Open Market Committee. The FOMC following its December meeting announced the central bank's bond purchases would be lowered to $75 billion a month from $85 billion.  Economists expect a further cut in monthly bond purchases to $65 billion.  The bond purchases have been meant to hold down long-term interest rates.  Long-term rates rose considerably during 2013 with the yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds rising to 3.00% heading into the fed's initial tapering of "QE3" bond purchases, but then pulling back.  The market yield on the 10-year bond was up 5 basis points on Monday to 2.77%.

Must Read: Bank Stocks Tumble on Mixed Economic Data

Stocks weren't helped by the latest housing numbers, as sales of new homes fell 7% during December from November, with the average sales price declining as well. New-home sales did rise considerably during 2013, and sales prices were up year-over-year.

The KBW Bank Index (I:BKX) was down 0.7%% to 67.94, with all 24 index components ending with losses, except for JPMorgan Chase, which was flat at $55.09.

Shares of Citigroup (C - Get Report) were down 1% to $48.81. With Argentina's currency declining 12% Thursday and Friday after the country decided on a devaluation to support exports, some investors were concerned about the bank's exposure. The extent of Citigroup's capital at risk in Argentina won't be known until the company files its annual report, probably early in March, however, the company previously reported that its "net investment in its Argentine operations was approximately $750 million," as of Sept. 30.

Citi also reported that as of Sept. 30 it had "cumulative translation losses related to its investment in Argentina, net of qualifying net investment hedges, of approximately $1.19 billion (pretax)."

KBW analyst Fred Cannon on Friday estimated that if Citi were to write down its entire investment in Argentina as of Sept. 30, it would see a "manageable" decline in book value of 17 cents a share, or 12 cents a share, if "foreign currency forwards" were factored in. But in a worst-case scenario, which could include $275 million in foreign exchange losses, Citi's book value could decline by 45 cents a share, Cannon wrote in a note to clients. A loss of that magnitude would represent less than 1% of Citi's reported Dec. 31 tangible book value of $55.38.

The following chart shows the performance of Citi's stock against the KBW Bank Index and the S&P 500 since the end of 2011:

C Chart data by YCharts

Mike Mayo: Jamie Dimon's Pay 'Feeds the Big Brother Banking Beast'

Should You Wait for First Niagara to Get Its Act Together?


Philip W. van Doorn is a member of TheStreet's banking and finance team, commenting on industry and regulatory trends. He previously served as the senior analyst for Ratings, responsible for assigning financial strength ratings to banks and savings and loan institutions. Mr. van Doorn previously served as a loan operations officer at Riverside National Bank in Fort Pierce, Fla., and as a credit analyst at the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, where he monitored banks in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Mr. van Doorn has additional experience in the mutual fund and computer software industries. He holds a bachelor of science in business administration from Long Island University.

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