Banks lead stock gains after First Citizens buys Silicon Valley Bank assets

Investors have been hunting for what banks could be next to fall as the system creaks under the pressure of much higher interest rates

The Wall Street entrance to the New York Stock Exchange is seen in New York City, on November 15, 2022.
The Wall Street entrance to the New York Stock Exchange is seen in New York City, on November 15, 2022.BRENDAN MCDERMID (REUTERS)

Stocks are rising on Wall Street Monday as battered banks show more strength, at least for now. The S&P 500 was 0.6% higher as of 9.55 am Eastern time. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 250 points, or 0.8%, to 32,490 and the Nasdaq composite rose 0.5%.

Markets have been in turmoil following the second-and third-largest U.S. bank failures in history earlier this month. Investors have been hunting for what banks could be next to fall as the system creaks under the pressure of much higher interest rates.

First Citizens’ stock soared 43% after it said it would buy most of Silicon Valley Bank, whose failure sparked the industry’s furor earlier this month. As part of the deal, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. agreed to share some of the losses that may arise from some of the loans First Citizens is buying.

Other banks that investors have highlighted as the next potential victims of a debilitating exodus of customers also strengthened.

First Republic Bank rose 18.2% and PacWest Bancorp rose 4.9%. Most of the focus in the U.S. has been on banks that are below the size of those that are seen as “too big to fail.”

A broader worry has been that all the weakness for banks could cause a pullback in lending to small and midsized businesses across the country. That in turn could lead to less hiring, less growth and a higher risk of a recession. Many economists were already expecting an economic downturn before all the struggles for banks.

The worries are international. In Europe, Credit Suisse’s stock tumbled so quickly this month that regulators brokered its takeover by rival Swiss banking giant UBS. At the end of last week, the market’s sights set on Deutsche Bank, whose stock fell sharply as analysts questioned why it had come under pressure.

“So far, regulators and lawmakers have worked together to keep the crisis under control, and they have used all the help they could to do so,” Naeem Aslam of Zaye Capital Markets said in a commentary. “This particular element is keeping the hope alive that whatever the issue was with Deutsche Bank, lawmakers are going to address it, as there is simply too much to lose if things are left alone.”

On Monday, Deutsche Bank shares rose 5.6%. Other big banks across Europe also found some stability. These giant banks don’t share many characteristics with the smaller and mid-sized banks in the United States that have been under pressure. But all are navigating much more scrutiny from investors broadly. Their world has become much more difficult because interest rates have jumped very high very quickly.

The Federal Reserve and other central banks announced their latest increases to interest rates in recent weeks as they fight inflation that’s still gripping worldwide. Higher rates can undercut inflation by slowing the economy, but they raise the risk of a recession. They also hurt prices for stocks, bonds and other investments.

The Fed has pulled its key overnight rate to a range of 4.75% to 5%, up from virtually zero at the start of last year. It indicated last week that the troubles in the banking system could end up acting like rate hikes on their own, by slowing lending.

The managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, told a conference in Beijing on Sunday that risks to financial stability have risen as interest rates climbed. She said actions by central banks and other regulators have helped to ease strains on markets, “but uncertainty is high, which underscores the need for vigilance.”

The Fed has hinted it may raise rates just one more time this year before leaving them alone for a while. Traders on Wall Street, though, don’t believe it. Many are betting the central bank will have to cut rates as soon as this summer to prop up the economy.

Huge, quick swings in expectations for the Fed have caused historic-sized moves in the bond market.

Yields jumped Monday in their latest lunge. The yield on the 10-year Treasury, which helps set rates for mortgages and other important loans, rose to 3.50% from 3.37% late Friday. It was above 4% earlier this month.

The two-year yield, which moves more on expectations for the Fed, rose to 3.97% from 3.77%. It was above 5% earlier this month.

Lower rates can act like steroids for stocks, and technology and other high-growth stocks tend to get a particularly big boost. That has helped to steady the S&P 500, which is Wall Street’s main barometer of health. It’s dominated by Big Tech stocks, such as Apple and Microsoft, and it’s been able to rise this month even with all the worries about banks.

Other areas of the market that don’t benefit from such Big Tech stocks have been weaker. The Russell 2000 index of smaller stocks, for example, is on track for a 7.6% loss this month versus a 0.7% gain for the S&P 500.

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