Judging by history, the recent slide in bank stocks may be nearing an end. Financial shares, after falling nearly 6% the past month, were trading higher Friday. In late morning action, the Philadelphia KBW Bank Index rose 1.2%, outpacing the gains in the broader market. Some of the day's biggest gainers were Wells Fargo ( WFC), up $1.09, or 2%, to $56.03; Regions Financial ( RF), up $1, or 2.9%, to $35.19; North Fork Bank ( NFB), up 59 cents, or 1.5%, to $38.14; Fifth Third ( FITB), up $1.35, or 2.5%, to $54.82; and Bank of New York ( BK), up 63 cents, or 2%, to $31.33. To the bears, the rally may be nothing more than a dead-cat bounce before fear of rising interest rates sends investors racing again to the exits. But others, looking at the recent past, see reason to believe the selling pressure could be over -- or at least nearing an end. Mark Fitzgibbon, a Sandler O'Neill & Partners bank analyst, says that compared with 1998, when bank stocks fell 35% over a seven-month stretch, the banking sector today is in a lot better shape. He says bank balance sheets are better positioned to adjust for rate hikes, and the sector trades at a far lower multiple than it did in 1998. Back in 1998, Fitzgibbon says, the median forward price-earning ratio for bank stocks was 18.3, compared with a 15.4 forward P/E as of March 31. That should cushion the sector this time around, he says. "This is significant, in our view," says Fitzgibbon, in a research note. "Since we were starting from a 16% discount to where we started in the spring of 1998, we think that means we do not have as far to fall." Assuming the past is prologue, bank stocks, in a worst-case scenario, could fall another 14% in order to match the 1998 slump.