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Keep on running

Have you been wondering what, if anything, can cause bank stocks to fall? Last year's crisis managed to do it, but now it would appear to be little more than a temporary blip. And in the US at least, the first quarter of 1999 has been a profits bonanza for most of the banks, even for the likes of JP Morgan, which had been stuck in the return-on-equity doldrums for several years.

Well, Mike Mayo might be able to provide you with some clues. As head of bank equity research at Credit Suisse First Boston he has recently publish a rather daunting report entitled "Banks and the Red Queen effect". Daunting for its size, if for nothing else. At 1,000 pages, covering all the major mid-cap, regional and money-centre banks, it must be the biggest bank survey ever produced.

The title is a reference to a quotation from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, cited at the beginning of the report. "The Red Queen said: 'Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you have to run twice as fast as that.'"

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