The Banking Sector's a Beast Coming Into March

The first week of the month will see plenty of action for the nation's big banks as the market reacts to big macro numbers, revelations of loan fraud from a Citigroup client, Bank of America going ex-dividend, JPMorgan paying up to settle a lawsuit, and Wells Fargo getting a big stamp of approval from Warren Buffett.

Mar 3, 2014 at 12:00PM

In terms of the financial sector, the first week of March will definitely hold true to the old saw about the month coming "in like a lion." The roaring animal in question will be macroeconomic news, which should have more of an influence on the sector than anything at the micro level for the nation's banks. On Tuesday, President Obama submits this year's edition of the federal budget, and not to be outdone, the Federal Reserve releases a fresh edition of its Beige Book (an influential state-of-the-economy tome), a day later.

Perhaps more important than both of those combined, Friday will see the release of the unemployment rate for February. This will be particularly critical since the January number (6.6%) almost hit the 6.5% mark the Fed has set as the minimum level for holding interest rates near 0%.  The average forecast seems to be for a repeat of that 6.6%;  if it's any lower, eyes will turn to the Fed to see if it pulls a lever or two on monetary policy.

Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) goes ex-dividend this week. Don't expect a mad rush to snap up stock before that happens, though -- the big lender is paying a mere $0.01 per share these days. The Fed's Comprehensive Capital Assessment Review is coming later this month,  though, and since the bank has posted strong fundamentals of late the regulator will probably be amenable to a dividend increase (assuming, of course, that the firm has requested one). Bank of America's investors will certainly be happy to see their investment picking itself off the dividend floor.

The same could be said for Citigroup (NYSE:C), which also drips out a $0.01 per share distribution.  The yield from that penny might just creep higher this week on the back of a share price slide, though. This would follow the revelation a few days ago that a case of loan fraud by a client in Mexico will drain around $235 million from the originally reported profit figure for both Q4 and 2013. The company is slated to file an adjusted 10-K annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission today, which it says will reflect that adjustment. So Citi won't exactly be starting off the week on a high note.

JPMorgan (NYSE:JPM) will enter its work week lighter by one lawsuit. This is nothing but good news for the heavily sued and routinely investigated lender. Last Friday, a judge in Miami approved a $300 million settlement that'll put to rest litigation brought by a group of homeowners. They claimed that the bank, working with insurance firm Assurant, placed certain forms of coverage on their properties at inflated rates. Ah, if JPMorgan Chase could only resolve its many other legal fights so quickly and cleanly.

Loan frauds and lawsuits aside, the bulls might come out in force in the financial sector over the next few days following this past weekend's release of Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE:BRK-A) 2013 annual report. The document cemented the fact that longtime Berkshire holding Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) was by far the top stock in its portfolio in terms of market value, at nearly $22 billion. CEO Warren Buffett's bets are basically automatic endorsements for a stock; Wells Fargo's should benefit from gaining even more of his favor. Other big financial sector holdings for the famous financier include stock of US Bancorp, Goldman Sachs, and warrants to purchase a whopping 700 million shares of Bank of America.

So March is coming in like a growling king of the jungle. Will it exit like a lamb quietly trotting off? At the moment, given the many happenings in the sector, that doesn't seem likely.

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Eric Volkman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway, Goldman Sachs, and Wells Fargo, and owns shares of Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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