Based on recent performance from the sector's biggest names, it's easy to argue that financial stocks are making a comeback.
Capital One Financial Corp. (NYSE: COF) is up 27% in 2012. Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) is up 29%. Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) is up a whopping 59%.
Indeed, a survey of 184 analysts conducted by Bloomberg News in January expected bank profits to rise 57% in 2012.
"The banks could get some positive operating leverage in 2012 from trading normalizing and expenses normalizing," Chris Kotowski, an Oppenheimer & Co. (NYSE: OPY) analyst, told Bloomberg.
Kotowski expects an 18% earnings-per-share increase for each of the six major investment banks.
But guess what? A year ago that same survey of analysts predicted profits would climb 32% in 2011.
Instead, financial stocks were the worst performers among 10 industries tracked within the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.
So far in 2012, however, financial stocks are the second leading sector in the S&P 500 with an 18% gain. That compares to an 11% gain by the broader market.
In short, whether you are looking at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS) or the entire financial sector, last year's losers have suddenly become this year's winners.
So is it time to take some chips off the table, or is now the time to double down for the long term?