Last week marked the date for the rather bewildering -- and potentially bone-crunching -- practice of "the run of the bulls" in Pamplona, Spain, but when it comes to bull running, maybe there's not so much this week. Today, Merrill Lynch (NYSE:MER) increased its quarterly profit, but it missed analysts' expectations. Despite the disappointment, though, one might argue that any run of the bulls for brokerage firms took place quite some time ago.

Merrill reported earnings up 10% at $1.1 billion, or $1.06 per share. The rub? That's $0.03 shy of expectations. Revenues came in at $5.3 billion, basically flat from their levels at the same time last year and a far cry from the expected revenues of $5.7 billion. Though Merrill derived strength from global private management and investment managers divisions, it pointed to a tough quarter given slightly gloomy investor sentiment.

Other recent pressures to revenues included "interest rates, the geopolitical environment, oil prices, and inflation," according to the conference call transcript supplied courtesy of CCBN StreetEvents. Merrill said that it remains "confident" in future earnings potential because of the foundation it has set over the last several years.

It's no secret that trading volumes have been sluggish these days. Not only are we dealing with annual summertime trading doldrums, that state's compounded with a case of the jitters on the part of investors. We've seen similar signs of a downward trend from discount brokers such as Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick Charles Schwab (NYSE:SCH) (which is, incidentally, moving closer to the full-service model), as well as Ameritrade (NASDAQ:AMTD) and E*Trade (NYSE:ET).

Despite what may be a sluggish outlook for the remainder of the summer, Merrill gave assurances about the strengthening economy and its cost-saving initiatives. Merrill shares hit a new 52-week low in today's trading, bringing up the question of whether the summer's weakness represents a bargain for the long haul.

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.