Buffett is bullish on his banks

Warren Buffett is bullish on his banks. The Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) CEO and second-richest man in the world would love to boost his company's stakes in Wells Fargo (WFC), US Bancorp (USB) and M&T Bank (MTB) because their shares are so attractively priced, he said at Berkshire's annual meeting over the weekend.

Buffett's remarks are one of the forces that pushed bank stocks up today, but subsequent events have already exposed some flaws in the Oracle of Omaha's ability to foretell the future. Just a day after he confidently asserted that none of the banks would need more capital, there are whispers that regulators will tell Wells Fargo it must raise $10 billion in equity to buffer it against future losses.

That hasn't dampened investors' enthusiasm for the company's stock, however. It surged 24 percent today.

US Bancorp is probably the least likely of Buffett's banks to be ordered to issue new stock or convert the government's $6.6 billion from its Troubled Asset Relief Program in to common equity as a result of the stress tests, according to analysts. It reaps more income from fees than many of its competitors, providing it with a more stable stream of revenue. Its shares rose by over 13 percent today.

Of the three banks winning Buffett's seal of approval, only M&T has outperformed the KBW Banks Index of large financial institutions so far this year. Coincidentally (or not), it's also the only one not subject to the stress tests. Perhaps the best way to avoid a bad grade is not to have to take the exam in the first place. M&T jumped almost 14 percent on the day.

But Buffett isn't as enamored of all of his bank holdings. SunTrust (STI), another Berkshire Hathaway investment, is posting big gains today -- it climbed 25 percent -- despite his refusal to offer the same endorsement of its financial health he gave Wells Fargo and US Bancorp.

"I don't know that much about SunTrust in order to give you an answer" as to whether it will need to raise capital after its "stress test" is graded, Buffett told reporters yesterday, according to Bloomberg News.

Notwithstanding Buffett's uncertainty, analysts who follow SunTrust have said the company may well be among those that regulators ask to raise additional funds. Oracle, indeed.
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