What Sent Bank of America Higher Today

Investors in Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) are well versed when it comes to the volatility rollercoaster. With a beta of 1.78, shares in the nation's second-largest bank by assets are theoretically 78% more volatile than, say, the S&P 500. Indeed, on any given day, shares of the nation's second largest lender are typically either up or down by a minimum of 1%.

For this reason, as well as the massive opportunity ahead for B of A, it's nearly impossible for many of the bank's shareholders to ignore the daily fluctuations. What follows, in turn, is glance at the factors pushing its shares higher today.

The bulls are out in full force
Over the past few months, multiple high-profile industry analysts and former B of A bears have changed their tune and begun singing the bank's praises.

At the end of last year, Meredith Whitney, who famously forecast the descent of Citigroup prior to the financial crisis, stated that she had not "seen an opportunity like [B of A] in four or five years." She went on to say that with the "junk out of [its] trunk," the lender is now in a position to quadruple its quarterly dividend payout.

Two weeks ago, another former B of A bear followed suit. In an article published on Seeking Alpha, hedge fund manager Tom Brown predicted that the bank's stock "will reach the low $20s over the next 18-24 months." (Click here to see my take on Brown's analysis.)

And most recently, the founder and investment manager of Fairholm Capital Management, Bruce Berkowitz, expressed the desire to own even more B of A if he could -- he's currently prescribed by regulations against doing so given the already large position that his fund holds in the company. When asked by Bloomberg's Eric Schatzker whether he would like to "own more B of A," Berkowitz answered simply, "Yes."

Given this type of reception, it's easy to understand why B of A was the top-performing stock on the Dow last year and has continued its ascent ever since.

What else is influencing B of A and the market today?
Further fueling B of A's ascent were a handful of economic reports released today suggesting that the macroeconomic situation isn't as dire as it may have appeared last week after the Commerce Department reported an unexpected contraction in fourth-quarter GDP.

Among other things, the Institute for Supply Management reported that the nonmanufacturing sector expanded at a faster rate in January than economists had expected. In addition, the Congressional Budget Office announced this morning that the federal government's deficit this year will be below $1 trillion for the first time in five years.

Any positive macroeconomic news of this sort is uplifting for the banking industry. In addition to B of A, lenders like Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC  ) , JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) , and US Bancorp (NYSE: USB  ) rely to a heavy extent on the health of the underlying economy to spur employment, increase housing values, and thus drive money into mortgages.

During the final quarter of last year, many of these banks notched record mortgage-origination volumes. Wells Fargo's came in at a staggering $125 billion, JPMorgan's at $51 billion, and US Bancorp's at $22 billion. But for this to continue, the still-fragile economic recovery needs to continue gaining momentum.

The Foolish bottom line
While the financial sector has outperformed the broader market handily over the past year, many analysts are wondering how much longer this can carry on. To see why our own in-house B of A specialist thinks that there's still room for shares of the nation's second largest lender to grow, check out our new in-depth report on the bank by clicking here now.


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