Updated from 1:23 p.m. EDTFinancial stocks lifted higher than the flat-lining broader market Wednesday despite a confluence of poor earnings from a number of companies. Helping to keep things afloat was Houston's HCC Insurance ( HCC), which gained 3.7% to $31.92 after first-quarter earnings shot up to $96.7 million, or 83 cents a share, from 68 cents a share last year. This beats estimates by 6 cents, according to Thomson Financial. Online broker optionsXpress ( OXPS) also spiked on word it saw a 24% year-over-year surge in customer accounts and client assets as of the end of April. Daily avenue revenue trades added 2% from last year and 8% sequentially. Shares of the Chicago-based company rose 2.7% to $24.36. Also doing fairly well were Swiss banks UBS ( UBS) and Credit Suisse ( CS). UBS tacked on 0.9% to $63.24 after agreeing to buy half of Northern Star Generation, a power-generation outfit, from an American International Group ( AIG) fund. AIG lately gained 0.4% to $72. Meanwhile, Merrill Lynch upgraded Credit Suisse to buy from neutral, boosting its shares by 1% at $76.62. The NYSE Financial Sector Index, of which all but one of the above are components, climbed 51.6 points, or 0.4%, to 9920.77. The KBW Bank Index recently added 0.7% to 118.17. Weighing down the sector, however, were names like CompuCredit ( CCRT), which slid 9.3% after swinging to a managed loss of $9.5 million, or 19 cents a share, in the first quarter -- a far cry from the 21-cent-per-share profit sought by analysts. The Atlanta-based lender's shares lost $3.57 to $34.75.
CompuCredit was cut to underperform by Wachovia on the news, and other stocks were likewise hurting from negative analyst calls. Broker Jeffries ( JEF) and savings bank Provident Financial Services ( PFS) both fell at least 1.5% after suffering a mutual downgrade to market perform from outperform, respectively by Keefe Bruyette and Friedman Billings. Back in earnings news, SWS Group ( SWS) plunged 11.9% to $23.10 after the Dallas-based broker saw a drop of 4 cents a share in fiscal third-quarter continuing-operations earnings from last year to 28 cents a share. The analyst who follows the company was seeking 35 cents a share. Baltimore-based Legg Mason ( LM) beat Wall Street's $1.19-a-share earnings projections by 2 cents in the quarter ended March 31, but shares of the asset management firm pulled back 2.7% to $103 following a slight Tuesday run-up. ProAssurance ( PRA), an Alabama-based insurer, also topped Wall Street earnings estimates by 2 cents a share, but was just shy of two analysts' first-quarter revenue estimates. Shares gave back 1.4% to $54.76. And Indiana insurer Conseco ( CNO) saw heavy trading after posting a steep drop in first-quarter profits that widely missed Street expectations, while simultaneously announcing it added $200 million to its stock repurchase program, for a total of $350 million. Shares began lower but closed up 15 cents at $17.94.