Downey Financial ( DSL), the parent company of a savings and loan, said Brian E. Cote will become chief financial officer March 13. Cote will be assuming the CFO responsibilities from Thomas E. Prince, who will continue as Downey's chief operating officer. Shares of Downey rose 41 cents, or 0.7%, to $62.48.

Prudential Financial ( PRU) saw its shares edge higher after the company said it would buy Allstate's ( ALL) variable-annuity business in a $560 million deal. The purchase, through a reinsurance transaction, will give Prudential an additional $16 billion in annuities to manage. Shares of Prudential tacked on 20 cents, or 0.3%, to $75.71.

Shares of OptionsXpress Holdings ( OXPS) fell 4% after the provider of securities brokerage products and services reported its monthly performance statistics for February. Daily average revenue trades totaled 29,200, up 64% from the same month in 2005 but down 11% from January. The company had 5,500 net new customer accounts. OptionsXpress shares were losing $1.18 to $28.95.

North Valley Bancorp ( NOVB), a bank holding company, named Kevin R. Watson chief financial officer. He'll take the post later this month. Watson previously served as CFO for Feather River State Bank and Calnet Business Bank, which were acquired by larger institutions. North Valley shares were gaining 5 cents to $17.66.

A.G. Edwards ( AGE) was up 3% following word that Wachovia upgraded the investment-brokerage company. Wachovia took its rating on the stock to market perform from underperform, lifting A.G. Edwards $1.30 to $44.62.

Oppenheimer started coverage of Cathay General Bancorp ( CATY) with a buy rating, boosting the banking company's shares by 2%. Cathay was lately gaining 67 cents to $35.73.

Credit Suisse reinstated its coverage of banking giant Wachovia ( WB) with a neutral rating and a $61 price target. Wachovia's shares slipped 9 cents, or 0.2%, to $55.40.

MortgageIT Holdings ( MHL) was under pressure after Keefe Bruyette & Woods downgraded its shares to market perform from outperform. The mortgage-banking company saw its shares lose 38 cents, or 3.9%, to $9.37.

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