"We believe the outperformance in regional bank stocks this month is a reflection of the market's view that short-term interest rates will go up in 2015," said Terry McEvoy, head of bank research at Sterne Agee. "In our view, 2014 is an ideal time for investors to begin accumulating shares of regional banks."
Some market pros say regional banks are poised to profit from the onset of rate hikes in 2015 from the Federal Reserve as their operating models allow for larger returns on loans.
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"If you just look at rising interest rates, the regional banks will give you the most 'bang for that buck' so to speak," said Scott Miller Jr., a managing partner at Blue Bell Private Wealth Management.
Miller, whose Pennsylvania-based fund has roughly $285 million in assets under management, said that while regionals offer prospects for heftier returns, they can also be riskier investments than larger, more diversified banks in a rising rate environment.
"The difference with the regionals is that since they're less diversified, they're more dependent on making money from loans and more dependent on making those commercial and personal loans," Miller said. "That's why you're going to see them the most affected."
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He said one place where investors can capitalize on returns from regional banks is in ETFs like the SPDR S&P regional bank ETF, ticker KRE. It consists of 82 regional banks with an average weighted market cap of $4.6 billion. Among the top holdings are First Republic Bank, Signature Bank and Prosperity Bancshares.
KRE has underperformed the S&P 500 so far this year, down around 4 percent, but surged more than 30 percent over the past two years.