Shares in

Multex.com

(MLTX)

rose sharply Wednesday after the company expanded its relationship with Wall Street power

Merrill Lynch

( MER).

The companies said they formed a multiyear, multimillion-dollar partnership to develop global research Web sites for Merrill's institutional clients. The sites also will host live conference calls between money managers and Merrill analysts. As part of the agreement, Merrill will take a minority equity stake in Multex. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

Multex was up 7 1/4, or 24%, to 37 1/4 by midday Wednesday. Merrill shares were flat at 78. (Multex closed up 8 3/16, or 28%, to 38 3/8.)

"This is huge for Multex and it's big for Merrill," said Elan Danon, who covers Multex for

LaSalle Street Capital Markets

in Chicago. "This is a stamp of approval for Multex." Danon said the fact that the deal is nonexclusive is an added plus for Multex, which can go on to build similar systems for other banks and brokerages. LaSalle doesn't have an investment-banking relationship with either company; Dalon rates Multex a buy.

For Merrill, the deal indicates that the firm is rapidly coming up to speed on Internet trading. "They're starting to get the Web," said Steve Galbraith of

Sanford C. Bernstein & Co

. "There's a lot of internal momentum." The deal with Multex comes as Merrill continues to ramp up its online presence. The company introduced Internet trading earlier this month.

Galbraith rates Merrill neutral; Bernstein doesn't do any investment banking.

Multex, which carries around 500,000 Wall Street research reports on more than 10,000 companies, already operates Merrill's research site,

www.askmerrill.com, and provides key technology for Merrill's online trading site,

www.mldirect.com.