Financial stocks were blasting off Friday, together with the jubilant broad indices, in a last full-trading-day hurrah before the markets close on Christmas. Trading will end early on Monday.Leading the skyward surge was First Marblehead ( FMD), which was up some 70% after Goldman Sachs ( GS) agreed to
In earnings, Asta Funding ( ASFI) climbed 10.2% after the New Jersey-based firm said it made $13.1 million, or 88 cents, in the fiscal fourth quarter. That's lower than last year, but two analysts were looking for only 67 cents a share, according to Thomson Financial. Shares of Asta, which manages consumer receivables, were lately trading at $30.05. First Horizon National ( FHN) rose 2.6% at $18.82 on a valuation-based upgrade to market perform at Keefe Bruyette. This is despite First Horizon saying its mortgage segment is expected to take a pretax loss this quarter. Largely thanks to homebuilding investments, it also expects to take a loan-loss provision of roughly $150 million. And, even though Friedman Billings ( FBR) suspended its dividend this quarter and estimated it would take a $38 million hit from the sale or writedown of nonprime mortgages, shares added 4.7% after the firm doubled its share-repurchase authorization to 100 million shares. Slightly under half of the prior authorization had already been fulfilled. Shares were up 14 cents to $3.10. Finally, New York insurer Navigators Group ( NAVG) tacked on 4.3% on word Standard & Poor's will add the stock to its SmallCap 600 index as of market close on Dec. 31. Among the rare financial losers today, however, was bond insurer Ambac ( ABK). Fitch Ratings put the company's AAA rating
on review for downgrade , saying that it needs about another $1 billion in capital -- or another risk-paring measure -- in order to keep that rating. Fitch cited an updated review of Ambac's exposure to collateralized debt obligations and CDOs squared. MBIA's ( MBI) own disclosure of CDOs-squared exposure crushed its shares on Thursday. Today, Ambac gave up 4.2% while MBIA saw some mixed trading. Recently, it was losing 1.1% at $19.74. Elsewhere in negative territory, Deutsche Bank slashed Bear Stearns' ( BSC) 2008 estimates by $2.15 to $9 a share a day after the broker reported a big fiscal fourth-quarter loss . And Impac Mortgage ( IMH) recently dove 17% on a huge quarterly loss of its own. The struggling Irvine, Calif.-based firm said it hemorrhaged $1.19 billion in the third quarter, or $15.66 a share, due to "dramatically worsening" conditions in the secondary mortgage markets. With adjustments, that comes to $16.3 million, or 21 cents a share. The comparable year-ago figure is a profit of 23 cents a share. That comes in ahead of estimates, which had called for a 25-cent adjusted loss. Still, shares were trading down to 58 cents. More broadly, the NYSE Financial Sector Index was rising 90.38 points, or 1.1%, to 8,251.52, and the KBW Bank Index added 0.4% to 88.69 after some mixed trading. The Amex Securities Broker-Dealer index gained 1.9%.