NEW YORK (
) -- Big bank stocks can't catch a break.
After outperforming the broader markets in the first quarter of the year, the sector has erased most of those gains since April.
Investors appear to have run out of reasons to buy bank stocks, with valuations no longer a steal and macro factors taking a turn for the worse.
unexpected disclosure of
its $2 billion trading loss has also scared away already weary bank stock investors.
JPMorgan had enjoyed a premium as a "safe haven" asset, having demonstrated prudent risk management and leadership through the crisis. But the recent lapse in risk management has delivered a black mark to its reputation.
The lack of near-term catalysts combined with expectations of another weak summer is also weighing on sentiment. Earlier in the year,
expectations of the nationwide mortgage settlement, higher deal activity thanks to
acquisition spree, and the Fed's stress tests all helped to push bank stocks higher.
But the catalysts are now switching to more "macro factors" according to Barclays Capital analysts. Bank stocks stand to gain from higher interest rates, more robust loan growth and sustained improvement in home prices as well as lower headline risk from Europe, according to analyst Jason Goldberg. But the timing of these events remains highly uncertain.
JMP Securities analyst David Trone recently took an ax to the estimates and price targets of the big banks. "We now expect the shares and earnings of our bulge-bracket names to fall significantly over the balance of 2012 due to a confluence of material events, both at home and abroad, led by an increasingly troublesome situation in Europe," he wrote in a recent note.
According to Trone, the U.S. has a "trifecta of worries" including the fiscal cliff, the expiration of market-related tax cuts and Presidential elections.
More regulation is also on the cards with calls to toughen the Volcker rule and break up big banks resurgacing following the recent trading fiasco at JPMorgan.
IPO flub is also raising questions among regulators.
"Washington's policy response to the losses of '07-'09 was already tough, but now the JPM episode has caused a new flare-up of emotions, thus final Volcker rules are likely to be painful," Trone wrote.
Here's a look at the
that have taken the biggest hit over the past month amid a litany of negative headlines.
Only stocks with a market capitalization of greater than $1 billion have been considered.
5. Zions Bancorp
have dropped nearly 10% over the past month. Year-to-date the stock is still up 14%.
The Salt Lake City, Utah-based bank reported first-quarter net income available to common shareholders of $25.5 million, or 14 cents a share, which came in below expectations.
But Zion's earnings routinely have a
fair bit of noise , due to one-time items arising out of conversion of debt to preferred stock and the repayment of bailout money.
Excluding "the noncash effects of the discount amortization on conversion of subordinated debt and additional accretion (net of expense) on acquired loans ($15.0 million, $0.08 per share), and the accelerated amortization of discount on the $700 million redemption of Troubled Asset Relief Program ("TARP") preferred stock ($19.6 million, $0.11 per share) in the first quarter," Zions said its net operating earnings were $60.1 million or 33 cents a share.
Still, analysts remain concerned about future earnings power from the company. "The credit part of the ZION story remains one with good momentum. The tougher part is on revenue generation," Sandler O'Neill analysts wrote in a report following first quarter results. "The lending recovery ZION is experiencing is still pretty muted. In fact, line utilization is about as low as it has ever been. This contrasts with the substantial traction many other large regionals have gained in the last couple of quarters."
4. Hancock Holdings
of Gulfport, Mississippi, have dropped 17% in the past month, making it among the worst performers within the sector.
The bank reported a net income for the first quarter of $18.5 million, or 21 cents per share, compared to $19 million, or 22 cents, and $15.3 million, or 41 cents, respectively, in the fourth and first quarters of 2011.
Analysts lowered estimates for the bank post its results, sending shares lower. However, in light of the recent underperformance, some are a little more constructive on the stock.
"We believe this is a quality company on a path to superior returns and promising growth prospects at a relatively inexpensive valuation," KBW analyst Jefferson Harralson wrote in a recent report.
At a recent investor presentation, the bank laid out potential revenue strategies from its acquisition of Whitney and said it is on the lookout for more deals.
The bank was also optimistic about expanding into Texas, which it said was exhibiting organic loan growth.
Six analysts rate the stock a buy, while seven rate it a hold.
3. Bank of America
Bank of America
was among the top Dow performers in the first quarter, rising 71%.
Since the end of the first quarter, the stock has shed 25%. Year-to-date, it is still up by about 28%.
Bank of America has had a much-needed reprieve from negative headlines this year. Concerns about capital adequacy, which raged throughout last year have abated significantly after the bank easily passed the Fed's annual stress test.
The bank learned from its earlier lessons, wisely choosing not to request the regulator to allow it to return more capital. That saved it the embarrassment of being rejected, a fate suffered by rival
Unlike last year, most of the negative headlines in recent months have revolved around its peers Citigroup, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.
Still, analysts are worried about its ability to generate earnings that justify its valuation, given low interest rates, higher expenses and continuing legacy mortgage issues and legal costs.
"Until the company can show progress in substantially reducing its operating expenses we believe the consensus EPS expectations remain too high," Stifel Nicolaus analyst Chris Mutascio wrote in a recent report. "Our 2013 EPS estimate of $0.85 remains well below the consensus estimate of $1.04. That gap has to narrow before we take a more constructive view on the shares."
Analysts remain skeptical of the company's prospects with only 7 rating it a buy, while 22 have a neutral rating on the stock and two analysts have a sell rating.
Shares of Citigroup are down 18% in the past month, with year-to-date returns hovering around 3%.
Citi has not fully recovered from the Fed's rejection of its capital return plans, which placed it squarely in the "weak bank" camp.
While the bank has said it may re-submit its plan to the regulator this June, it is still trying to understand the Fed's stress test models.
The bank may choose to delay its request to 2013, which would give it more time to build more capital and thereby stand a better chance of winning the Fed's approval.
Shareholders are certainly not pleased with the bank, with most voting down the $15 million pay package to CEO Vikram Pandit.
Still, analysts remain positive on the stock, following a strong first quarter performance that showed improvement across businesses. Even long-term bear Meredith Whitney upgraded the stock to a hold rating from underperform.
Coincident with 1Q12 earnings, we are upgrading C shares to HOLD from UNDERPERFORM, as improving operating metrics and a still historically low valuation temper the probability of a significant absolute share price decline," Whitney wrote in a report.
The analyst expects Citi to handily make its capital target of over 8% by the end of 2012. She also highlighted expense control as the single largest question for Citi's investors, and a "necessary precondition" of Citi reaching its 1.25-1.50% return on asset target.
19 analysts rate the stock a buy, five analysts maintain it at hold and four have an underperform or sell rating.
1. JPMorgan Chase
JPMorgan Chase, once a universal bank stock favorite, has swiftly dropped from investors' grace after disclosing a $2 billion trading loss from a poorly executed hedge.
Shares of the bank have dropped 16% since the bank announced the loss and the stock has been unable to recover from the fiasco.
The loss, expected to top $2 billion with some estimates placing it at $5 billion, is not expected to significantly dent the bank's capital levels or for that matter its earnings.
But its reputation as safe haven has definitely been marred. And in a further blow to investors, JPMorgan recently announced that it would halt its $15 billion buyback program, which was expected to provide some support to the stock.
A few analysts have reluctantly lowered their ratings on the stock, with most still seeing this as an isolated incident.
But the regulatory debate over Volcker rule, Glass-Steagall and too-big-to-fail have flared up again following the incident and the banking industry's main champion, Jamie Dimon, may have lost his voice in the debate.
KBW analyst David Konrad now believes the bank should be broken up, not so much for regulatory reasons, but because the stock continues to trade at low multiples.
Konrad said that his firm did not think that JPMorgan CEO James Dimon was "going anywhere soon," in the wake of the company's $2 billion second-quarter hedge trading loss and its suspension of its share buyback program, but that "should the market continue to depress the multiples of universal banks regardless of underlying values, we believe the Board may explore options to unlock value."
An overwhelming 26 out of 34 analysts still rate the stock a buy, though that is down from 29 analysts a month ago, according to data from Reuters.
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Written by Shanthi Bharatwaj in New York.
Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors and reporters from holding positions in any individual stocks.