Give these guys an "A" for effort.

After one of the worst days ever for bank stocks, shares of financial giants surged on Wednesday after the CEOs of Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) disclosed sizable insider purchases. Citigroup (NYSE:C) also zoomed higher on news that Richard Parsons -- former Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) chairman and CEO -- would become chairman of the struggling bank. "Change has arrived" seems to be a popular theme this week.

How much sizzle did these news stories bring to the bank sector? See for yourself:


Tuesday's Loss

Wednesday's Gain

Bank of America






JPMorgan Chase



Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC)



Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS)



Stocks acted like it was some sort of newfound gold mine, but is it really that significant?

Let's start with Citigroup's new chairman, Dick Parsons. Of course, it's great that a new sheriff is in town to keep an eye on CEO Vikram Pandit, but let's be honest: Parsons is most famous for being on the team that orchestrated the $165 billion AOL-Time Warner merger back in 2000 -- a deal often cited as the peak of corporate lunacy. I certainly have nothing specific against Parsons, but as Citi struggles to divest its mergers gone awry, having a chairman whose name is synonymous with "the worst merger in history" seems mildly ironic.

And how about the Bank of America and JPMorgan insider purchases? Insider buying is always an encouraging sign (especially after shares have tanked), but cynical ol' me can think of another reason bank CEOs might be buying shares -- the publicity.

Think about it: What's plaguing banks is a combination of actual losses and an absolute loss of confidence, keeping shares low and hampering the quest to raise capital. As we saw yesterday, news alone of purchases can send shares through the roof, which in and of itself increases market confidence and widens the capital-raising trough.  

Keep in mind many top bank CEOs made incredibly ill-timed purchases, too. Citigroup CEO Pandit, for example, bought 850,000 shares in November when the company's stock was more than three times higher than it is today. Wachovia's ex-CEO made a massive insider purchase in July, just months before his company virtually collapsed. Just because CEOs are buying doesn't mean they're right. 

My thought on bank stocks is that nobody, not even the CEO, knows what the future holds, and hence individual investors would be wise to keep their distance. There are a number of vital variables that are simply impossible to extrapolate with any degree of confidence. Odds are many banks will end up on the extreme end of two very different outcomes, either surging or collapsing from today's prices. I know that's a wholly unsatisfying and ambiguous call, but maybe that's the point: No one in their right mind knows where any bank is going these days.

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Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. JPMorgan Chase is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Bank of America is a former Income Investor selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.