The ongoing credit crunch was coming to a head Friday as former giants of the financial-services industry, now battered into submission, were forced into taking the sellout route.

The pulped Countrywide ( CFC), for instance, will indeed sell itself to Bank of America ( BAC). As disclosed this morning, BofA agreed to pay around $4 billion for the nation's biggest mortgage lender, or 0.1822 BofA shares for each Countrywide share.

Back in August, BofA helped buoy the firm a bit by buying nonvoting convertible preferred Countrywide stock worth $2 billion.

The buyout's per-share dollar amount comes to $7.16, well below yesterday's tremendous $7.75 finish -- a 51% spike spurred by The Wall Street Journal's merger story break. That closing price, moreover, had essentially represented a return to relatively normal levels following the prior couple of days' massive losses, which were set off by bankruptcy rumors and word of more than doubled foreclosures in December.

Accordingly, Countrywide shares were in retreat with a recent 16% loss at $6.51. Shares of BofA, which expects the deal to begin boosting earnings next year, were off 1.2% to 38.85.

In another potential bombshell deal , the mortgage-heavy Washington Mutual ( WM) climbed after CNBC reported that the bank is in "very preliminary" takeout discussions with JPMorgan Chase ( JPM).

Mortgage woes have had WaMu shares sliding steadily downward since the summer, especially since the dispatch of dismal third-quarter results in October and the following month's accusation , courtesy of New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, that it had schemed to inflate house appraisals . December's revelations of a capital-boosting dividend slashing and a stock offering didn't help, either.

Today, WaMu shares extended on yesterday's Countrywide inspired leap to add 70 cents, or 4.9%, to $14.86 in recent trading. That, along with a number of rallying banks, had the KBW Bank Index bouncing 1.1% to 84.71 to sharply outperform the major indices. JPMorgan, another component, was hugging the flat line.

Also joining the acquisition party was AmCOMP ( AMCP), a small Florida-based insurer. Shares soared nearly 40% after Employers Holdings ( EIG) agreed to pick it up for $12.50 a share in cash. In total, the deal is worth $230 million, including debt assumption, and it should close in the second quarter. AmCOMP shares added $3.29 to $12.04 as Employers rose 1.4%.

But among Friday's big financial losers was American Express ( AXP), which said it will take a roughly $440 million pretax hit in the fourth quarter due to rising loan delinquencies. After taxes, the charge should come to around $275 million, and it's expected to strain continuing operations income to between 70 cents and 73 cents a share. Thomson Financial's analyst estimates average at 87 cents a share, excluding items. Shares of the New York credit card issuer were off $5.78, or 11.8%, to $43.14.

Fourth-quarter results will likewise suffer at Provident Bankshares ( PBKS) as the Baltimore bank takes a sizable charge from writing down "a significant portion" of its portfolio of real estate investment trust preferred securities -- $28.9 million, or 91 cents a share. The bank also vaulted its loan-loss provision to $13.5 million from last quarter's $7.5 million, which should ultimately chop 11 cents a share off its quarterly earnings. Shares were sinking 9% to $17.27.

Elsewhere, AllianceBernstein ( AB) sheared about 30 cents off its 2007 profit guidance, suggesting a range of between $4.20 to $4.50 a share. The Street is looking for $4.63 a share. The New York investment manager blames this largely on "much lower-than-expected" hedge fund performance fees -- echoing the reasons behind its last outlook slashing in October -- as well as on investment losses associated with employee compensation plans. Shares were losing $6, or 7.8%, to $71.01.

And BankUnited ( BKUNA) lost 6.8% on a Sandler O'Neill downgrade to sell. Shares of the Florida bank were down 34 cents at $4.66.

More broadly, the NYSE Financial Sector Index was down around 43 points, or 0.5%, to 7,881.26 after briefly meandering around the flat line.