No matter how solid some of their recent financials are, it seems that American banks and brokerages just can't win any investor respect these days. The latest example of this is Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), which just reported earnings that indicated strong growth in certain key business areas... but not all! The market appears to be looking for any excuse not to trade up major financials, and it found more than a few when it scrutinized the white-shoe investment bank's numbers. For that and other key reasons, Goldman's shares declined while the Dow had a strongly positive day, with many stocks in other industries advancing.

Lasting enmity
Like its brother financials JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) and Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC), Goldman's shares slipped the day the bank released 3Q results -- results that, on balance, were rather positive. Firstly, the company's bottom line was well in the black to the tune of $1.5 billion, a far cry from the $393 million loss in the same period a year earlier. That equated to a $2.85 EPS, convincingly thumping the consensus estimate of $2.12, and left some room for a dividend boost to $0.50 per quarter from the previous $0.46. On an annual basis, net revenue doubled and then some to $8.4 billion.

But this just isn't a good time for financial stocks, particularly the Goldmans and JPMorgan Chases that make a lot of their money from investment banking. The industry hasn't quite recovered from the hit to its reputation in the wake of last decade's financial crisis, and recent events like JPMorgan's multibillion-dollar trading loss in a derivatives position haven't helped matters. Banks are still being sued by the government and other entities because of their conduct during that era, which keeps them firmly in the public mind as bad guys whose problems still aren't sufficiently behind them.

So even a sterling quarter like the one JPMorgan Chase had didn't budge its stock. This seems to be the same dynamic at work with Goldman, compounded by the fact that not all of the bank's numbers were so rosy. The third quarter of 2011 was particularly bad because of several hits Goldman took on its direct investments; these led to deep craters in this business segment and an overall net loss for the quarter -- only the second quarterly shortfall in the company's history.

When the just-released figures are matched against those of a more typical period like the second quarter of 2012, they provide some fundamental reasons to be bearish. Two of the company's four divisions actually reported lower revenue on a quarter-over-quarter basis. This pair of laggards was, yes, investment banking (declining slightly to $1.16 billion from 2Q's $1.20 billion) and investment management, down to $1.2 billion from the former $1.3 billion.

1 strike and you're out
Those two divisions happen to be the smallest of the four; even combined, their revenues don't add up to anywhere near what Big Daddy, institutional client services, takes in ($4.1 billion in 3Q). But it doesn't seem to matter -- unless a financial posts results that significantly blow past expectations and show marked improvement across all business lines, the market is likely to shrug and put its money in other sectors.

One reason could be that investors think the stock has peaked. After all, like others in its industry Goldman stock has had a pretty good comeback from the summer slump in financials. Its shares have rebounded around 35% from their year-to-date trough in early June. This is around the mid-point in terms of gains for the majors; Morgan Stanley has surged 45% during that time, and JPMorgan Chase is up 38%. Even hard-to-love incumbents like Citigroup (NYSE:C) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) have seen pretty gains, at 50% and 37%, respectively. By contrast, the Dow Industrials gained 12% in the period.

But this run-up is on the back of collective second-quarter results that, for the most part, weren't as impressive as those of the current quarter. By that right, then, financials should be popping right about now. The fact that they're not is indicative of the general wariness and mistrust hovering over the sector at the moment.

Reasons to be cheerful, part 1
Still, one could almost hear an audible sigh of relief coming from Wall Street after Goldman's results hit the wires. Financials are at the very core of American business and if they're doing well there's hope yet for the broader economy. And hope for their shareholders, but only if the market gets back to rewarding these good results with stock price increases.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.