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Wednesday's Financial Winners & Losers

Merrill Lynch climbs.
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Financial stocks struggled to find their footing Wednesday as two of the major indices treaded water.

Recently, the


Financial Sector Index added 0.2% at 8,829.68 with the help of names such as

Bear Stearns


, which

quelled some investor trepidation regarding its financial problems.

At a Merrill Lynch-sponsored conference, the broker said it had cut its exposure to the ravaged CDO (collateralized debt obligation) market by more than half since August to $884 million. Bear also projects a mortgage-securities-related writedown of $1.2 billion in the fourth quarter -- lingering vestiges of

mammoth subprime problems that surfaced this summer. Still, the shot of confidence seemed to outweigh, as shares pushed 6.8% higher at $107.71.

Merrill Lynch


climbed, as well, after the

New York Post

reported that it had successfully tapped

NYSE Euronext

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CEO John Thain

to replace Merrill's

recently ousted former Chief Stan O'Neal following the broker's

abominable third-quarter results. NYSE was expected to hold an emergency board meeting this afternoon.

Prior trading-floor rumors had Thain going either to Merrill or


(C) - Get Citigroup Inc. Report

, which also just

pushed out its CEO on the heels of a

plunging third-quarter profit. According to


, Merrill denied prior reports that it had previously offered the top job to


(BLK) - Get BlackRock Inc. Report

CEO Larry Fink.

Merrill shares bounced 4.4% to $59.47, Citi gained 1.2%, and Blackrock was lately up 1.4% at $198.31. NYSE traded in and out of the red but, recently, it ticked up 0.9% to $87.72.

A battered


(ETFC) - Get E*TRADE Financial Corporation Report

, meanwhile, continued clawing its way back from Monday's

precipitous drop. An analyst with BMO Capital Markets called bankruptcy at the online broker "highly unlikely," per a


report, following the firm's warning regarding the

shrinking value of its asset-backed securities.

In addition, CEO Mitch Caplan yesterday

canceled his appearance at the above-mentioned Merrill conference, which could indicate a forthcoming management shakeup. E*Trade shares were surging 73 cents, or 14.6%, to $5.73.

Charles Schwab

(SCHW) - Get Charles Schwab Corporation (The) Report

, another online broker, said October daily average trades and total client assets surged from last year by 29% and 24%, respectively. In that month, as well,



reported daily average revenue trades soaring 64% year over year, and

Knight Capital


said the value of its average daily trades had more than doubled to $17.2 million. Shares were up 2.4% or more.

Elsewhere in positive territory,



traded higher after saying that "excellent operating and financial performance" in Asia-Pacific and in the Middle East helped boost its third-quarter pretax profit vs. a year ago, even though the Britain-based bank also took a $3.4 billion loan-impairment hit in its U.S. Consumer Finance segment. Shares tacked on 0.9% to $89.58.


Greater Community Bancorp


had one of the sector's biggest price gains today, rocketing 38.9% to $20, after agreeing to sell itself to

Oritani Financial

(ORIT) - Get Oritani Financial Corp. Report

for $21.40 a share. The $187 million stock-and-cash deal should close in the second calendar quarter of next year. Oritani slid 13.8%.

After climbing steadily for the past few days, the KBW Bank Index retreated 0.7% to 98.61, under pressure from the vast majority of its components. Two of these,

Bank of America

(BAC) - Get Bank of America Corporation Report


Marshall & Ilsley


, dragged lower despite seemingly positive developments.

BofA got a Punk Ziegel upgrade to buy, which cited its investment in China Construction Bank, though this follows CFO Joe Price's warning yesterday that the bank could face

$3 billion in fourth-quarter writedowns. The Charlotte, N.C., bank's shares, which nonetheless rose substantially yesterday on the heels of that warning, today were pulling back 0.5%.

MI also lost ground even though the Milwaukee bank said it will repurchase $114 million of its shares from

Credit Suisse

on an accelerated basis under prior authorizations. Shares recently gave up 1% to $32.25.


Northern Trust

(NTRS) - Get Northern Trust Corporation Report

was off 1.2% after saying that a pretax litigation expense of $50 million will slice 15 cents a share off its fourth-quarter bottom line. The Chicago-based firm said in a regulatory filing that, as a member bank of Visa U.S.A., it must share in the credit-card issuer's recent antitrust settlement with

American Express

(AXP) - Get American Express Company Report

. Northern Trust stock shed 97 cents to $79.24. AmEx was recently up 1.2%.