NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Bank stocks were mixed on Wednesday, as investors geared up for Friday's employment report from the Department of Labor, which could carry even more weight than usual, considering how jittery the market has been when reacting to economic developments over the past two weeks.
The broad indices ended lower while the KBW Bank Index (I:BKX) was down slightly to 66.11, with winners and loses roughly split. The index is only down 5% so far this year, but there's quite a change in tone from last year, when the index was up 35% and 2012, when it rose 30%.
The winner among the components of the KBW bank index was Cullen Frost Bankers (CFR) of San Antonio, with shares rising 0.8% to close at $72.00. Cullen/Frost's shares are pricey when compared to many other regional banks, trading for 16.4 times the consensus 2015 earnings estimate of $4.39 among analysts polled by Thomson Reuters. Then again, the company has had a very strong and predictable track record, with good earnings performance every quarter through and after the credit crisis.
Sell-side analysts continued to highlight bargains among regional bank stocks that have pulled back this year. These include FirstMerit (FMER) of Akron Ohio, which according to Oppenheimer analyst Terry McEvoy has 32% upside over the next 18 months, well as KeyCorp (KEY) of Cleveland and First Horizon National (FHN) of Memphis, Tenn., which Credit Suisse analyst Craig Siegenthaler calls his "top picks" among regional names. Siegenthaler also believes investors may see a number of downward earnings estimate revisions, in light of "lower quality drivers" of fourth-quarter earnings results that beat analysts' expectations.