Merrill Lynch

( MER) and most other financial-sector stocks traded lower Wednesday after

Federal Reserve

chairman Ben Bernanke called recent inflation numbers "uncomfortably high" despite a modest slowing of core rates in the latter half of 2006. Although Lehman Brothers began coverage on the broker with an overweight rating today, Merrill Lynch shares closed down $1.66, or 2%, at $82.28.

Citigroup

(C) - Get Report

got a small lift in mixed trading after a Banc of America analyst upgraded the stock to buy from neutral. The analyst said years of disappointing results from the banking giant could render any improvement an upward catalyst. After climbing 8 cents earlier in the day, the stock closed the session down 9 cents, or 0.2%, at $50.97.

According to

The Wall Street Journal

, Citigroup is also advising Britain's

Barclay's

in the latter's exclusive merger discussions with

ABN Amro

( ABN), thus precluding the possibility that Citigroup might make a counteroffer. ABN did state, however, that it will consider other deals should the talks with Barclay's fall through. ABN's shares closed down 64 cents, or 1.5%, at $42.62.

New Century Financial

(NEWC)

plummeted again Wednesday after the struggling subprime-mortgage lender said it will no longer sell mortgages to home financer

Freddie Mac

( FRE) closed lower by $1.66, or 2.7%, at $59.30.

Among few financial-sector winners Wednesday,

New York Stock Exchange

(NYX)

closed up $2.57, or 2.8%, at $96.17, a day after announcing it had succeeded in its $14 billion bid for the

Euronext

exchange. Broker

Friedman Billings

added 13 cents, or 2.4%, to $5.50; credit card issuer

Advanta

( ADVNB) gained 94 cents, or 2.3%, to $42.57; and

IndyMac Bancorp

( NDE) rose $1.61, or 5.5%, to $31.14.