) -- Investors who bought bank shares hoping that TARP repayments would lead to immediate stock rallies have for the most part been disappointed, but their more patient ilk may be pleasantly surprised.


(C) - Get Citigroup Inc. Report

shares fell 5 cents, or 1.3%, to $3.86 on Wednesday after its chairman and subsequent media reports suggested a bailout payback was imminent. Since

Bank of America

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announced its own surprising $45 billion bailout riddance on Dec. 2, the market has buzzed with questions about when Citigroup or

Wells Fargo

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may follow. And since then, Bank of America's stock has shed 2%, Citigroup has dropped 6% and Wells Fargo has declined 5%.

The market may be reacting to the

promise of dilution

. Bank of America raised $19.3 billion, and aims to expand its float to more than 10 billion shares, in order to repay its bailout funds. Citigroup is haggling with regulators over its repayment plan, but is reportedly looking to raise $20 billion in capital in the market as well. Investors might also simply be rebalancing portfolios at year-end, or decided to cash in on the bank-stock rally while it's still relatively potent, wary of more potential turmoil ahead.

Back in June, when the Treasury announced that 10 banks would be allowed to return bailout funds, investors reacted similarly. Each of those stocks fell over the next six sessions, with an average decline of 2%.

JPMorgan Chase

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Goldman Sachs

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fell 4%, and the biggest decliner,

Morgan Stanley

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(MS) - Get Morgan Stanley (MS) Report

, fell a whopping 10%. Those banks also had to

raise capital

to repay bailout funds as well.

Within a few months, however, most of those stocks made impressive gains. The rally extended into the fall, with most of the group topping out in September or October, giving back some of their steam since then. But the average investor who bought into one of the 10 banks at the closing price the day before the TARP announcement would have seen their investment gain 14%.

The risk-reward probability also appears to have been favorable. Odds are, whichever company that hypothetical investor favored gained value, as just four of the stocks have declined, while six have risen. The best performers,

Capital One

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American Express

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, have gained 65% and 55%, respectively since June 9, while the weakest links,

State Street

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Northern Trust

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, have given up 14%.

Of course, as the old adage goes, past performance is no indicator of future success, and there's no telling where bank stocks will be in another three or six months. But as

Berkshire Hathaway's

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Warren Buffett once noted, "the stock market is designed to transfer money from the active to the patient."


Written by Lauren Tara LaCapra in New York