Financial stocks mostly rode high Friday following
better-than-expected job growth despite discouraging news at both Merrill Lynch ( MER) and Washington Mutual ( WM). Merrill shares traded up 2.5% at $76.67 even though the New York broker said that some $5.5 billion in writedowns will pressure its third-quarter results to a loss of 50 cents a share, reversing a $2 year-ago profit. Similarly, WaMu said that the credit crunch will pull down its third-quarter profit by around 75% from last year's 77 cents a share, but the Seattle-based bank's shares still added 2.2% to $36.07. That gave legs to the KBW Bank Index, which climbed 1% to 110.50. The NYSE Financial Sector Index, which tracks both Merrill and WaMu, was up 1.2% to 9,710.65. Barclays ( BCS), meanwhile, tacked on 1.3% after the British-based bank dropped its takeout bid for ABN Amro ( ABN) against the competing bid from a Royal Bank of Scotland-led group. Elsewhere in positive territory, Florida's Universal Insurance ( UVE) jumped 0.8% to $9.11 after upping its quarterly dividend by a penny to 9 cents a share. Janus Capital ( JNS) was upgraded to neutral from sell at UBS, lifting the Denver asset manager's shares by 5.3% to $32.08. But State Street ( STT) lost 1.3% after The Wall Street Journal reported that Alaska and Idaho are considering suing the Boston bank over retirement-fund losses stemming from two of its "enhanced index" bond funds. The funds made aggressive and risky investments, said the Journal.
Security Bank ( SBKC) was one of the biggest price decliners after saying that "rapid and significant declines in residential real estate market values" will push its loan-loss provision to between $16 million and $20 million for the remainder of 2007. Net charge-offs for the year, as a percentage of average loans, should vault by 75 to 85 basis points vs. the prior estimate for a 20-basis-point increase. Shares of the Georgia-based bank lost 13.5% to $11.37.