UPDATE 5-Soaring bank issues boost Toronto stocks

Mon Mar 24, 2008 5:03pm EDT
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By Leah Schnurr

TORONTO, March 24 (Reuters) - Rallying financial issues helped pull the Toronto Stock Exchange's main index strongly higher on Monday, amid increased confidence in the value of bank stocks and a rush of bargain-hunting.

A sweetened bid for U.S. bank Bear Stearns Cos BSC.N from JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N: Quote) improved sentiment for the broader financial sector as investors scooped up bank stocks that had been beaten down by fallout from the credit crisis and fears of more difficulties to come.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CM.TO: Quote) was up C$2.54, or 4 percent, at C$66.80, while Bank of Montreal (BMO.TO: Quote) added C$2.25, or 5.1 percent, to C$46.76.

The sector as a whole gained 3 percent after JPMorgan raised its Bear Stearns bid to about $10 a share from the $2 a share it had originally offered.

Elvis Picardo, investment strategist at Northern Securities Inc. in Vancouver, said the move was a positive step for the banking sector and helped ease concerns that financial stocks on both sides of the border were overvalued.

"Just the fact that JPMorgan has seen fit to quadruple the bid provides some comfort to investors that the degree of overvaluation may not be that huge for the financial services industry," said Picardo.

The S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE closed up 244.08 points, or 1.91 percent, at 13,019.72 with all of its 10 main sectors higher.   Continued...