Thursday's Wild Financial Stocks

If you own financial stocks, I'm sure you're going to want to sit down, grab a glass of ice water, and perhaps rethink your tolerance for risk. Yesterday was one of the wildest days for financial stocks in quite a while.

While one-day movements mean absolutely nothing for the long-term investor, poking fun at how much of a whack-a-mole game the stock market can be from time to time rarely gets old.

Between talk of a Lehman Brothers buyout to renewed anxiety over the fate of Washington Mutual, financial stocks were all over the board yesterday. A late-day rally brought much of the carnage under control, but the peak-to-trough differences by the end of the day are pretty amazing. Take a look at these notables:

Company

Thursday Peak-to-Trough Range

Research

Washington Mutual (NYSE: WM  )

39.2%

Research

Lehman Brothers (NYSE: LEH  )

28.5%

Research

AIG (NYSE: AIG  )

22.3%

Research

MBIA (NYSE: MBI  )

20.9%

Research

Wachovia (NYSE: WB  )

12.0%

Research

JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  )

9.0%

Research

Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  )

8.6%

Research

*Source: Google Finance

The only way you can interpret that much volatility -- a lot of which came on virtually no significant news -- is to recognize that no one has much of a clue what the future has in store for financials. The amount of important information that's completely unknown right now -- what exactly lies inside structured finance products, how those products are being accounted for, and how much further assets will fall -- is a complete mystery to even the savviest of investors.

What's an investor to do under these circumstances? Unless you're prepared for insane volatility and have a stomach for risk, your best bet is to steer clear of financials for the time being. True, some big banks have remained largely removed from the bulk of the credit crunch and could make great investments at these prices, but navigate these waters at your own risk. There's a big difference between being a contrarian and running headfirst into a vicious storm.

For related Foolishness:

Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article, thank goodness. JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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