Bank blowout: Big bank earnings should propel the financials from worst to first

As the bank earnings flurry rolls on this week, the financials sector should be able to play catch-up and return to being one of the best-performing groups in the market.

This week, we await quarterly earnings from Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Bank of America reported better-than-expected results on Monday. Last Friday, J.P. Morgan, Wells Fargo and Citigroup reported quarterly earnings, all beating analysts' earnings per share expectations, but ultimately seeing their respective stocks trade lower on the session.

If the market is to continue its march higher and show positive returns this year, I think the financial stocks will need to step up and become one of the leading sectors ahead.

Financials lag

Consider where the financials are trading right now. The sector is the worst-performing S&P 500 sector in one month's time; on the year, the group is off nearly 2 percent, under-performing the market. This standing should improve as earnings come in.

Financial stocks and banking should thrive in this environment, given the economy and consumer balance sheets are strong, which altogether should spur loan growth and lending. Interest rates, too, have risen, and this should help banks' net interest income revenue.

Meanwhile, increased market volatility should also bode well for banks' trading activity, along with strong merger and acquisition activity. And, of course, regulatory restrictions are easing in the banking industry.

At the same time, headwinds exist. The yield curve has flattened as investors have rushed to Treasurys as a safe haven. I do believe this is temporary, and that the bank stocks' pullback is a solid buying opportunity.

How to play the space

If investors are interested in buying the sector but not comfortable in picking individual stocks, investors can utilize exchange-traded funds, like the XLF (for larger-cap names) and the KBWR (for regional banks), to gain exposure to the sector.

Both should perform well if the banking sector's fundamentals remain sound.

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Michael Santoli

Michael Santoli joined CNBC in October 2015 as a Senior Markets Commentator, based at the network's Global Headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.  Santoli brings his extensive markets expertise to CNBC's Business Day programming, with a regular appearance on CNBC's Closing Bell (M-F, 3PM-5PM ET). In addition, he contributes to CNBC and CNBC PRO, writing regular articles and creating original digital videos.

Previously, Santoli was a Senior Columnist at Yahoo Finance, where he wrote analysis and commentary on the stock market, corporate news and the economy. He also appeared on Yahoo Finance video programs, where he offered insights on the most important business stories of the day, and was a regular contributor to CNBC and other networks.

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