"Fed day" is upon us, and traders are treading cautiously ahead of this afternoon's statement from the Federal Reserve's rate-setting committee and the subsequent press conference with central bank Chairwoman Janet Yellen. At 12:10 p.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) and the broader S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) were down 0.01% and 0.07%, respectively, while the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite (NASDAQINDEX:^IXIC) was down 0.01%.
The banking sector is highly sensitive to the interest rate cycle, and shares of top banks Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), Citigroup (NYSE:C), and JPMorgan Chase had all dipped into the red by early afternoon. That's an opportunity to reiterate a contrarian view on this group.
A week ago, I highlighted three reasons shares of BofA, Citi, and JPMorgan could continue to outperform. Yesterday afternoon, the Financial Times published an in-depth article summarizing the results of an analysis of insider selling at the top six U.S. banks (the three mentioned in the previous sentence, along with Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS), and Wells Fargo). While the headline suggested bankers were consistently unloading shares ("Top US bank executives abandon share sale taboo"), a careful reading of the article revealed some interesting contrary findings to support my bullish outlook.
Since 2009, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon has not sold a single share of stock. Similarly, Brian Moynihan and Mike Corbat at Bank of America and Citigroup, respectively, haven't sold any shares since becoming CEO (Moynihan in January 2010, Corbat in October 2012), with Moynihan selling "only" $1 million worth of shares since 2009 (his remaining holding is worth $22.4 million.)
Part of this behavior is optics, of course -- the CEO of one top-five bank told the FT that he would never sell shares when they are trading below their book value, as that would demonstrate a lack of confidence in the company. Bank of America and Citigroup continue to trade at significant discounts to their stated book value to this day. Nonetheless, I think the fact that these executives are sitting on their share positions is done more than just for appearances' sake -- it's an indication they expect to earn a decent return on the stock. I think they're right.
(Incidentally, although I'm not generally a fan of pure-play investment banks as investments, I note that Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman has been a net buyer of his bank's shares since 2009 -- his $2.1 million purchase in August 2011 has worked out very nicely for him, with the shares doubling since then.)