Updated from 2:11 p.m. EDT with new stock prices

The financial sector spent most of Monday in positive territory, brightened by a string of positive earnings releases and the climbing broader market.

American Express ( AXP) reported a third-quarter continuing-operations profit of $1.07 billion, or 90 cents a share, for an 18.4% leap from last year. Thomson Financial's estimates had income at 85 cents a share, less special items. Shares of the New York credit-card issuer rose $1.79, or 3.2%, to $58.66.

TD Ameritrade ( AMTD) achieved a penny EPS beat with earnings of $200.4 million, or 33 cents a share, in the fiscal fourth quarter. The Omaha, Neb., company also issued in-line bottom-line guidance for fiscal 2008. Shares added 0.4% to $19.20.

Fellow online broker optionsXpress ( OXPS) saw 53.8% year-over-year income growth to 40 cents a share in the third quarter vs. analysts' 38-cent per-share targets. Daily average revenue trades ramped up 53.1%. Shares of the Chicago firm gained 2.4%.

Investment managers Waddell & Reed ( WDR) and T. Rowe Price ( TROW) each posted mounting third-quarter profits that were flush with Wall Street projections, and insurer Everest Re's ( RE) $3.68 per-share operating income smashed the $3.13 average estimate. Shares added 8.4%, 7.4% and 0.3%, respectively.

Assurant ( AIZ), a New York insurer, was in the green after KeyBanc Capital Markets upgraded the stock to buy, citing an above-average return on equity and higher returns in its specialty property division. Shares jumped out of the gate before pulling back to a 22-cent gain at $56.55.

Calyon Securities upped PartnerRe's ( PRE) price target by $20 to $100 following far-better-than-expected third-quarter results, after which the insurer's shares lifted 2.7% to $80.62. And Ohio bank FirstMerit ( FMER), whose third-quarter income was also above par, ballooned 5.1% to $19.51.

On the flip side, PFF Bancorp ( PFB) saw one of the sector's steepest price drops after posting a surprise fiscal second-quarter loss of $7.5 million, or 33 cents a share, due to a loan-and-lease loss provision that spiked more than 50% sequentially to $94.4 million. Analysts were seeking a profit of 47 cents a share; a year ago the Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., bank earned 56 cents a share. PFF shares took a 17.9% dive to $11.45.

Mortgage lender Countrywide ( CFC), meanwhile, announced it will offer to refinance or modify up to $16 billion in loans through a new program designed help Countrywide borrowers who are facing an adjustable-rate mortgage reset by the end of 2008.

This will help more than 80,000 customers, said the California-based company, including about 52,000 subprime borrowers with a strong payment history, for whom a special refinance unit has been created. Countrywide shares traded higher out of the gate but then fell 63 cents, or 4%, to $15.05.

Elsewhere, Merrill Lynch ( MER) saw heavy trading ahead of tomorrow's scheduled earnings release -- which, as the New York brokerage warned earlier this month, will reflect a third-quarter loss. Shares closed up 1% to $67.12 after spending most of the day in negative territory.

Broad sector trackers were mixed. The NYSE Financial Sector Index tacked on 0.2% to 9,100.38 while the KBW Bank Index shed 0.2% at 101.