The market opened seemingly undecided this morning. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) and S&P 500 both hovered listlessly in early morning trading, while the Nasdaq  (INDEX: ^IXIC) jumped up about one-third of a percent. But the Dow and S&P quickly joined the party, and now all three indexes are trending upward:

Index

Gain / Loss

Gain / Loss %

Ending Value

Dow Jones Industrial Average 44.24 0.35% 12,526
Nasdaq 22.96 0.67% 2,751
S&P 500 23.62 0.86% 1,302

Filling the coffers
The big news today is banking earnings. Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) joined Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) in posting better-than-expected results this morning. Despite Goldman's profit falling 58%, it still beat estimates by posting $1.81 a share, surpassing the $1.46 that was expected.

However, Bank of New York Mellon (NYSE: BK) disappointed the Street with earnings falling to $0.42 a share, and net income dipping 26%. Analysts were hoping for $0.53 cents a share. It seems there are two camps being formed: Those like Goldman and Wells that are outperforming, and those occupied by Citigroup and BNYM that are underperforming.

With banks on everyone's minds these days, people are asking themselves whether the sector is down and out, or whether sunny skies are ahead. Ultimately, I think it's mixed bag, and there will be big winners and big losers in 2012. Fool analyst Anand Chokkavelu has even conjectured that Bank of America could be the Dow's biggest winner in 2012. Goldman is likely to be weighed down by a rough year for investment banking, while Wells Fargo has been cited as the most stable (relatively) of the "big banks."

The best approach
With some companies zigging while others are zagging in the finance sector, it can be difficult to pull out the winners. If you're optimisitic about the long-term investing potential of this sector -- as I am -- I invite you to read The Motley Fool's new free report, "The Stocks Only the Smartest Investors Are Buying."

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Austin Smith owns no shares of the companies mentioned here. The Motley Fool owns shares of and has created a covered strangle position on Wells Fargo. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Goldman Sachs. 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.