Updated from 2:44 p.m. EDT with new stock pricesGovernment probes and various other crushing news helped pull financial stocks even lower than the waffling broad market Friday. Merrill Lynch ( MER) was once again on the downswing, after The Wall Street Journal reported that the Securities and Exchange Commission is
San Francisco broker Thomas Weisel Partners ( TWPG) reported dwindling non-GAAP third-quarter earnings of a penny a share, or 9 cents shy of expectations, and Nationwide Financial Services ( NFS) was two cents under with an operating profit of $1.09 a share. Thomas Wiesel was down $2.37, or 16.4%, to $12.05. Nationwide Financial slumped 4.9% to $50.00. The NYSE Financial Sector Index, which tracks all but one of the above stocks, was losing about 98.95 points, or 1.1%, to 8,931.81. But one of the sector's biggest price gainers was Georgia's GB&T Bancshares ( GBTB), which leapt 20.8% after agreeing to a stock-swap merger with SunTrust Banks ( STI) worth roughly $153.7 million. That pans out at about $10.80 per GB&T share, as of SunTrust's closing price Thursday. The deal should close in the second quarter of next year. GB&T was rising $1.83 to $10.63. SunTrust slipped 92 cents, or 1.3%, to $68.21. Also gaining ground was New York brokerage GFI Group ( GFIG), which said third-quarter income shot up 53.1% from last year. Excluding items, the company posted a profit of $27.6 million, or 92 cents a share, on surging revenue of $254.7 million. Analysts were looking for just 86 cents a share on a top line of $249.1 million. Shares tacked on 10.27% to $90.60. Elsewhere, online health insurance agency eHealth ( EHTH) upped its 2007 top- and bottom-line guidance to above-par ranges and beat third-quarter expectations, spurring shares 15.8% higher. And Investools ( SWIM), which offers online brokerage and investor-education services, swung to a quarterly profit of $13 million, or 19 cents a share, from a year-ago loss. That smashes analysts' dime-a-share targets. Shares climbed 5.9% to $15.05.