It is a law of physics: When two forces collide, momentum is lost.
This week, investor optimism over global growth, which has fueled a market rally, ran headlong into reality, when Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, warned that the IMF remains "on alert" because of flagging economies.
"The recovery remains too slow, too fragile," she said.
Small wonder that the broader stock market has declined three out of four days this week, with stocks on Thursday experiencing their biggest losses in six weeks. Among the biggest losers this week: financial services stocks.
Bank of America is a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio. See how Cramer rates the stock here. Want to be alerted before Cramer buys or sells BAC? Learn more now.
Financial companies have taken it on the chin as economic growth slackens and interest rates remain low. Over the past five days, the Financial Select Sector SPDR ETF has fallen 2.90%. The exchange-traded fund is down 7.81% year to date.
Sputtering growth has convinced the Federal Reserve to keep rates low, which means banks can't generate as much money from lending. Another concern weighing on banks is the staggering amount of energy sector debt on their books.
On Thursday, Citigroup fell 3.8%, Goldman Sachs was down 3.1% and JPMorgan Chase lost 2.5%.
BofA lost 3.17%, and it is the worst of the bunch, now holding $21.3 billion of risky energy loans on its balance sheet, or 2.4% of total wholesale revenue. That constitutes by far the highest exposure to the energy sector of any big U.S. bank.
The bank already is struggling to contain this massive debt load.
In the fourth quarter, BofA boosted its provision for credit losses in its global banking business by $316 million, chiefly because of reserve increases for energy exposure and higher charge-offs related to energy loans. Analysts warn that the provision expense could grow to $900 million this year unless energy prices significantly rebound.
BofA is scheduled to announce first-quarter earnings results next Thursday.
The Wall Street consensus is for the bank to report earnings per share of 25 cents, compared with 29 cents a year earlier. Analysts expect revenue in the quarter to come in at $20.39 billion, a year-over-year drop of 4.8%.
For the year to date, BofA's stock has fallen 23.65%, underperforming the financial sector as well as the broader market. Evidence is mounting that the stock is poised for even greater declines.
With a market capitalization of $135.27 billion and assets of $2.1 trillion, BofA is the second-largest bank holding company in the United States by assets behind JPMorgan Chase. The company operates in five segments: consumer and business banking; consumer real estate services; global wealth and investment management; global banking; and global markets.
The stock's trailing 12-month price-to-earnings ratio stands at 9.80, compared with a trailing P/E of 10.70 for the financial services sector, a seemingly favorable comparison that prompted some analysts this week to call BofA a value play.
But don't fall for this siren song. BofA isn't a bargain; it is a value trap.
Although its litigation woes are ostensibly over, BofA still hasn't shaken the tarnish of the financial crisis of 2008. The company received a considerable amount of negative press for its role in issuing billions in lousy subprime mortgage loans, a bad memory resurrected this year in the movie The Big Short.
BofA has paid billions in government fines over charges that it conned unwitting investors into purchasing deeply flawed residential mortgage-backed securities. The Securities and Exchange Commission has closed its case against BofA, but investor skepticism lingers.
Meanwhile, the bank's earnings are under pressure from a slump in trading revenue, low interest rates, the need to maintain higher capital for complying with regulatory requirements and energy loans that are turning sour.
The verdict: Stay away from BofA, especially as energy sector debt threatens to drag the bank down even further.
BofA is a toxic stock to avoid. To see a list of the absolute worst stocks to own right now, take a look at this new report. Inside, there is a full list of the market's most overvalued stocks, and investors can learn the process to use to avoid them in the future. Click here for a copy.