Shares in credit-crisis poster child Ambac Financial (ABK) rallied as much as 86% at one point Friday after the beleaguered bond insurer reported a surprise quarterly profit. Reeling from losses incurred on mortgage-backed securities and other dodgy assets, the company has raised the specter of bankruptcy protection repeatedly, something that's kept its stock below a buck for nearly five months.
So it came as something of a shock late Thursday when Ambac reported a fourth-quarter profit of $558.1 million, or $1.93 a share, versus a whopping year-ago loss of $2.34 billion, or $8.14 a share. The surprise profit came from a nearly half-billion-dollar tax benefit -- and there's no Street estimate for the company, according to Thomson Reuters data -- but results still sparked a flurry of speculative buying.
Ambac, which once fetched as much as $95 a share back in 2007, has seen shares trade in a range of 51 cents to $2.09 over the last 52 weeks.
But Morningstar analyst Jim Ryan warned clients that the results weren't quite as strong as the numbers suggest. Ryan wrote Friday: "With little improvement in the housing market (Ambac's primary source of claims) and the potential for a double dip in housing prices on the horizon, which could contribute to the growing inventory of potential foreclosures, we think the future remains opaque, to say the least."
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