Bank of America Tries to Steady the Dow as Other Financials Fall

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) isn't quite sure which direction it wants to go today. With both ups and downs so far in trading this morning, the index may be torn between caution and optimism after closing above 15,000 for the third day in a row. With Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke speaking this morning on managing risk in the financial markets, some investors may also be using caution as they approach the markets this morning.

He speaks
Bernanke spoke this morning at the Chicago Fed's yearly meeting on banking structure and competition, with his talk centering on vulnerabilities in the financial system that the central bank is actively monitoring. He noted that the Fed is watching closely for effects of risk-taking while the environment remains at historically low interest rates. With an eye toward "reaching for yield," Bernanke said that this type of risk-taking could affect the value of assets and underlying fundamentals at institutions taking those actions.

Financials are mixed
With the effects of the low interest rates hitting companies in the financial sector the hardest, it's easy to see why investors would have varying reactions to Bernanke's speech this morning. Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) is up 0.46% so far today, but it may have more to do with the bank's ongoing legal battles more than Bernanke's speech. New details on the case against the bank by the New York Attorney General's office over misrepresentations during its acquisition of Merrill Lynch may have to be dropped. The bank settled with investors in April for $2.43 billion over the claim that the bank did not fully disclose the extent of losses suffered by Merrill. Since the investors got a payout from the settlement, the NYAG's case on their behalf may not be allowed to continue under the law. Sorry, shareholders, no second helpings.

JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) is also dealing with some legal headlines this morning, dropping the stock by 0.69% so far in trading. A suit filed in California State Supreme Court contends that the bank -- one of the nation's largest credit card providers -- "committed debt collection abuses against tens of thousands of Californians." The Attorney General noted that the bank flooded the state courts with questionable cases against cardholders to collect overdue credit card debt. This is just one more legal fight announced against the bank in the past few weeks.

American Express (NYSE: AXP  ) is also down in trading this morning, with a 0.6% drop in share price. The only real news for the personal finance company is the announcement of its CFO's retirement. Daniel Henry, who joined AmEx as CFO in 2007, will retire once a suitable replacement has been found. This move is not a surprise for the 63-year-old executive, who is working hand in hand with CEO Kenneth Chenault to help with the transition.

Insurance companies have also been struggling against the pressures of low interest rates, with their all-important investing operations suffering from lower yields. Travelers Companies (NYSE: TRV  ) is in the red this morning, with a lesser drop of 0.21% as of this writing. Despite the pressure from low bond yields, the company announced impressive earnings in April. As one of the favorites of Street hedge funds, Travelers has been getting plenty of good press from analysts, with a reiterated "buy" rating from TheStreet, an "outperform" from Raymond James, and a boost to its target price. The increase to $97 gives current investors a 12.2% upside based on yesterday's close.

Bank of America's stock doubled in 2012. Is there more yet to come? With significant challenges still ahead, it's critical to have a solid understanding of this megabank before adding it to your portfolio. In The Motley Fool's premium research report on B of A, analysts Anand Chokkavelu, CFA, and Matt Koppenheffer, Financials bureau chief, lift the veil on the bank's operations, including detailing three reasons to buy and three reasons to sell. Click here now to claim your copy.


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