c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

Financial markets were nervous five years ago, as September 2008 began, but hopeful that the world would stabilize.

Two weeks later, Lehman Bros. failed and a panic began. The crisis demonstrated how interconnected the world financial system had become and how vulnerable even apparently healthy banks were when their competitors began to crumble. In the weeks that followed, most large banks around the world had to be bailed out. Their share prices plummeted.

Since then, however, some big banks have performed much better than others — a difference based to a significant extent on just how well, or badly, each bank had been run in the months and years leading up to the crisis.

In the weeks and months after the crisis began, all but one of 25 large banks around the world lost at least half of their market value, as measured in the local currency of the bank’s primary market. The exception was a Chinese bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, whose shares lost less than a third of their value.

The Bloomberg World Bank Index, which comprises more than 140 banks, has done better than most of the large bank stocks. This was a crisis where bigger was not necessarily better, and where some of the largest banks proved to be far from adequately capitalized, notwithstanding what their books had indicated before Lehman collapsed.

This spring, the world bank index got back to within 3 percent of its level at the end of August 2008, although it has since slipped back and is now 11 percent lower. Few of the large banks have done as well.

But a handful of banks turned out to be profitable long-term investments that August. Shares of both JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo in the United States are now more than 40 percent higher than they were. Shares of two Chinese banks — Bank of China and China Construction Bank — are higher now than they were five years ago, and a third is approximately unchanged. In Britain, HSBC is up about 13 percent, a much better performance than other large European banks. It did not hurt that HSBC had a significant presence in many developing countries, most of which rode out the recession reasonably well even though some have stumbled this year.