Financial stocks were turning in a somewhat wishy-washy performance Thursday after spending most of the morning in negative territory as investors weighed a mixed bag of news against the previous day's
big rate cut by the Federal Reserve. Among the big winners was MasterCard ( MA), which said fourth-quarter income rocketed to $304 million, or $2.26 a share, on revenue that sprang 27.8% higher year over year to $1.07 billion. Exluding after-tax gains, EPS came to 89 cents a share. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial had called for a profit of just 72 cents a share on $984.8 million in revenue. Shares of the Purchase, N.Y., credit-card company were surging 14.4% to $216.20. Bond insurer MBIA ( MBI), meanwhile, eventually fought its way into the green after saying in a conference call that it has enough cash to stay afloat -- more than $1.3 billion, all told, according to MarketWatch -- despite the currently harrowing market conditions. Earlier, shares had tumbled after MBIA revealed it took a fourth-quarter loss of $2.3 billion, or $18.61 a share thanks to risky investments in second-lien mortgages and collateralized debt obligations squared (CDOs backed by other CDOs). That reverses a year-ago profit of $1.32 a share. Regardless, MBIA stock was recently bouncing 5.7% to $14.76. At the same time, MBIA peer Ambac Financial ( ABK) took its cue and ballooned 92 cents, or 8.5%, to $11.77. Nasdaq Stock Market ( NDAQ) shares reversed early losses to rise 1.1% after the New York bourse said fourth-quarter non-GAAP earnings more than doubled to $69.1 million, or 46 cents per diluted share, from a year ago. That misses the Wall Street consensus by a penny a share. Nasdaq stock was lately up 51 cents to $45.16. In more recent financial winners, Fidelity National Financial ( FNF) jumped 6.4% to $19 even after the Florida insurer said it lost $44.9 million, or 21 cents a share, in the fourth quarter. That was pressured significantly by a $135.7 million addition to its claim-loss provision, said the firm, without which it would have made 28 cents a share. StanCorp ( SFG), another insurer, posted earnings of $1.23 a share, excluding 2 cents worth of capital gains, exceeding targets by 8 cents. Shares of the Porland, Ore., company spiked 9.9% to $49.35. Also turning in better-than-expected profits in the fourth quarter were online broker Investment Technology Group ( ITG), which is based in New York, and Colorado transaction processor Western Union ( WU). Shares were lately climbing 4% and 6%, respectively. Elsewhere, Florida's BankAtlantic Bancorp ( BBX) leapt 11% to $5.56 on a Sterne Agee upgrade to buy from hold. And Allied Capital ( ALD), a Washington-based investment firm, drifted 1.2% higher after pricing 4 million shares at $22 apiece for a public offering, with proceeds intended for paying off some of its revolving credit line, among other things. Underwriters will have a 600,000-share overallotment option. The NYSE Financial Sector Index was recently up 0.7% at 7,891.6. The Amex Securities Broker-Dealer Index added 2% to 205.79, with a particularly prominent boost from E*Trade's ( ETFC) continued rally following yesterday's disclosure of a spree of insider buying. Shares of the online broker were up another 34 cents, or 7.5%, to $4.90. Among individual decliners, however, IntercontinentalExchange ( ICE) lost ground after coming in below fourth-quarter EPS estimates with income that surged 32% year over year to $64.7 million, or 90 cents a share. The Atlanta-based exchange also announced that it had agreed to buy out YellowJacket Software, which operates an electronic-trade negotiation platform, for an undisclosed amount. The deal should close next month. ICE shares were easing by 0.9% to $137.06. Georgia-based insurer Aflac ( AFL) spent most of the day lower after likewise missing the mark with fourth-quarter income of just $382 million, or 78 cents a share, against analysts' estimates of 80 cents per share. Recently, however, shares poked 0.9% higher at $61.38. SEI Investments ( SEIC) hit Wall Street targets with per-share earnings of 35 cents a share, excluding an 8-cent noncash charge, but shares of the Oaks, Pa., brokerage still sank 3.7% to $27.44.
Elsewhere, Signature Bank ( SBNY) gave up 6.1% after saying it will delay its fourth-quarter and full-year results as it finishes reviewing the market value of "certain asset-backed securities" in its portfolio. The New York bank was originally supposed to report today. Shares were trading at $32.58 lately. And Gladstone Capital ( GLAD) surrendered 5.1% to $16.40 after pricing a 3-million-share offering at $17 a share, along with an underwriters' option for 450,000 more shares to cover any overallotments. Proceeds, which should come to roughly $47.8 million, are slated for repaying some short-term debt.