Wall Street Strengthens After Big Bank Deal, Regulator Moves

NEW YORK — Wall Street is rising Monday after regulators pushed together two huge banks over the weekend and made other moves to build confidence in the struggling industry.

The S&P 500 was 0.8% higher in midday trading, with stocks in the financial industry helping to lead widespread gains. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 347 points, or 1.1%, at 32,209, as of 11:45 a.m. Eastern time, while the Nasdaq composite was 0.3% higher.

Much attention has been on banks because they may be cracking under the pressure of the fastest flurry of hikes to interest rates in decades. Swiss banking giant UBS said Sunday it would buy its rival Credit Suisse for almost $3.25 billion in a deal quickly put together by regulators. Credit Suisse has been battling a unique set of troubles for years, but they came to a head last week as its stock price tumbled to a record low.

UBS stock rose 2.5% in Switzerland, while Credit Suisse fell 55.5%.

A group of central banks stretching from the United States to Japan also announced coordinated moves on Sunday meant to ease strains in the financial system. The moves would allow banks more access to U.S. dollars if they need them, in an echo to a practice widely used in prior crises.

In the U.S., most of the attention has been on smaller and mid-sized banks on fears that falling trust could push their depositors to pull their money all at once. That’s what’s called a bank run, and such a move could topple them.

First Republic Bank has been at the center of investors’ crosshairs in the hunt for the industry’s next victim following the second- and third-largest U.S. bank failures in history. Its shares fell 17.5% after S&P Global Ratings cut its credit rating for First Republic for a second time since Wednesday.

S&P said it could lower the rating even further despite a group of the biggest U.S. banks announcing last week they would deposit $30 billion in a sign of faith in First Republic and the larger banking industry.

While that money certainly helps, “it may not solve the substantial business, liquidity, funding, and profitability challenges that we believe the bank is now likely facing,” the credit-ratings agency said.

Stocks of other smaller- and mid-sized banks, meanwhile, were much stronger.

New York Community Bancorp jumped 34.1% after it agreed to buy much of Signature Bank in a $2.7 billion deal, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said late Sunday. Signature Bank became the industry’s third-largest failure earlier this month after regulators seized it.

Fifth Third Bancorp rose 7.6%, and U.S. Bancorp. gained 7.1% for two of the biggest gains in the S&P 500.

Much of the rest of the U.S. stock market was also pushing higher, but how long that lasts is a question mark. A huge decision is looming on the calendar by the Federal Reserve.

The U.S. central bank will announce its latest move on interest rates Wednesday. For a while, Wall Street was betting it would reaccelerate its hikes because of how stubborn high inflation has remained.

Higher rates can undercut inflation by slowing the economy, but they raise the risk of a recession later on. They also hurt prices for stocks, bonds and other investments. That was one of the factors hurting Silicon Valley Bank, which earlier this month became the second-biggest U.S. bank failure in history. Bonds owned by it and other banks have seen their prices fall as interest rates rose sharply.

The Fed has already pulled its key overnight rate to a range of 4.50% to 4.75%, up from virtually zero at the start of last year.

But all the recent stress in the banking system has pushed Wall Street to believe the Fed likely won’t pick up the pace again on its rate hikes. Instead, the bet is that it will likely stick with an increase of 0.25 percentage points, according to data from CME Group.

Some bets are even calling for the Fed to hold steady on interest rates Wednesday. But such a move could end up being more destabilizing because it could raise uncertainty: “the market may question ‘what does Fed know that we don’t?’ strategists wrote in a BofA Global Research report.

Many economists and investors were already expecting at least a mild recession to hit the U.S. economy given all the recent rate increases. The worry is that strains for regional banks could raise the risk even higher. That’s because of how important such banks are in giving loans to smaller- and mid-sized companies to grow and hire more workers.

Drastic recalibrations by investors for what the Fed will do with interest rates have caused historic swings in the bond market. Yields there have plunged since earlier this month.

Consider the two-year Treasury, which tends to move particularly closely with expectations for the Fed. Its yield was sitting above 5% earlier this month, at its highest level since 2007, after data on inflation and other measures of the economy kept coming in higher than expected.

Last week it plunged well below 4%, which is a massive move for the bond market. It rose to 3.98% from 3.84% late Friday.

Speculation is rising again on Wall Street that the Fed may begin cutting rates later this year. Not long ago, such hopes washed out of the market following a string of reports on the economy that were stronger than expected.

Cuts to rates can give the economy and banking industry more room to breathe, not to mention act like steroids for stocks and other investments. But they also give inflation more oxygen.

In markets abroad, stocks were higher in Europe after falling across much of Asia.


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