Shares of Morgan Stanley continued their strong start to the year as U.S. financial stocks reversed the previous session's losses and moved to the upside in morning trade Tuesday.

Morgan Stanley was up 7.4% at last check and the stock has risen 18% so far in 2009, according to FactSet. The stock was threatening to break through $20 a share for the first time since October and was recently trading at $18.93.

In the broader financial sector, the Financial Select Sector SDPR Fund gained about 1.3% recently.

In corporate news, The Wall Street Journal reported Merrill Lynch's brokerage chief, Robert McCann, is departing the firm after the recent closing of its acquisition by Bank of America Corp. Bank of America shares were up 2.9% in recent action.

Other financial stocks building on recent gains included American Capital Ltd. and Allied Capital Corp. The stocks are up about 91% and 74% so far this year, respectively, according to FactSet. The financial sector as a whole has been relatively quiet in recent weeks after 2008's violent swings, but some stocks are starting the new year with a rally.

Other gainers in financial shares Tuesday included Citigroup Inc., FirstFed Financial Corp., Prudential Financial Inc., Lincoln National Corp., Genworth Financial Inc., Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. and Legg Mason Inc.

Some commercial real estate stocks and home builders were also strong in morning dealings Tuesday, including General Growth Properties Inc., Hovnanian Enterprises Inc., Developers Diversified Realty Corp. and ProLogis.

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