The small-cap sector traded beneath the major indices Thursday even as several names soared on various positive news.

Volt Information Sciences ( VOL), for instance, leapt 25.8% after the New York-based staffing company posted fiscal third-quarter income of $9.1 million, or 40 cents a share. That crushes two analysts' 32-cent EPS estimate, per Thomson Financial. Shares were up $3.95 to $19.24.

In positive analyst calls, meanwhile, California's Conexant Systems ( CNXT) surged 17.5% to $1.34 after CIBC upped the semiconductor concern to sector outperformer, citing stock valuation and his belief that "real restructuring" seems to be on the horizon. He pointed to yesterday's announcement that Karen Roscher will replace J. Scott Blouin as chief financial officer, which follows Daniel Artusi's appointment as CEO earlier this year.

Elsewhere, Provectus Pharmaceuticals ( PVCT) jumped 16.2% in very heavy trading after getting clearance for midphase testing on Provecta, which is proposed to treat stage III and IV metastatic melanoma -- an advanced form of skin cancer. Shares of the Knoxville, Tenn., company were up 39 cents to $2.80.

Natural-gas processor MarkWest Hydrocarbon ( MWP) was also well in positive territory after agreeing to merge with MarkWest Energy Partners ( MWE), which the former currently controls and operates. MarkWest Hydrocarbon investors will receive around $734 million in stock and cash, or $61.12 a share, and the company will become a wholly owned subsidiary of MarkWest Energy.

The deal should close in late 2007 or early 2008. MarkWest Hydrocarbon shares leapt 17.2% to $58.68 as MarkWest Energy ticked up 7 cents at $32.07.

On the flip side, Sharper Image ( SHRP) sank 11% to $4.84 on disappointing August numbers. The San Francisco-based specialty retailer said same-store sales plunged 16%, with total revenue down 34.4% year over year to $21.9 million.

CDC ( CHINA), a Hong Kong-based Internet-software company, said that non-GAAP income slipped by a penny a share from last year to 8 cents a share, or $10.1 million. Wall Street was looking for a flat profit compared with last year. Shares were off 9% to $7.73.

More broadly, the Russell 2000 and the S&P SmallCap 600 were giving up 0.3% and 0.4%, respectively.

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