Home > BOA buys Merrill for 44 bill and Lehman No more

BOA buys Merrill for 44 bill and Lehman No more

September 15th, 2008 at 03:21 am

Seems that BAC bought Merrill for 44 billion and Lehman after 158 years in business is out.

Bank of America Reaches Deal for Merrill
September 15, 2008

In a rushed bid to ride out the storm sweeping American finance, 94-year-old Merrill Lynch & Co. agreed late Sunday to sell itself to Bank of America Corp. for roughly $44 billion.

The deal, which was being worked out in 48 hours of frenetic negotiating, could instantly reshape the U.S. banking landscape, making the nation's prime behemoth even bigger. The boards of the two companies approved the deal Sunday evening, according to people familiar with the matter.

Driven by Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis, Bank of America has already made dozens of acquisitions large and small, including the purchase of ailing mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp. earlier this year. In adding Merrill Lynch, it would control the nation's largest force of stock brokers as well as a well-regarded investment bank.

A combination would create a bank of vast reach, involved in nearly every nook and cranny of the financial system, from credit cards and auto loans to bond and stock underwriting, merger advice and wealth management.

It would also show how the credit crisis has created opportunities for financially sound buyers. At $44 billion, or roughly $29 a share, Merrill would be sold at about two-thirds of its value of one year ago, and half its all-time peak value of early 2007. Merrill shares changed hands at $17.05 each on Friday, after falling sharply in the wake of Lehman's looming demise.

"Why would Bank of America do this?" said analyst Nancy Bush at NAB Research LLC in Annandale, N.J. "Ken Lewis always likes to buy the biggest thing he can. So why not this? You are master of the universe, basically."

Bank of America and Merrill Lynch wouldn't comment on any discussions.

Merrill would give Bank of America strength around the world, including emerging markets such as India. And Merrill is also strong in underwriting, an area Bank of America identified last week at an investors' conference where it would like to be more aggressive.

Dramatic Deal

A deal would be all the more dramatic because Merrill, upon the arrival of Chief Executive John Thain, did more than many U.S. financial giants to insulate itself from the financial crisis that began last year. It raised large amounts of capital, purged itself of toxic assets and sold big equity stakes, such as its holding in financial-information giant Bloomberg. That Merrill has opted to sell itself thus underscores the severity of crisis.

The integration of Merrill, known for its proud, and sometimes testy, brokerage force, could turn out to be the biggest test of Mr. Lewis's career. Typically, the bank has made one big deal and then taken time to carefully merge the two institutions. But in recent years, acquisitions have come at a furious pace. In 2004, the bank bought FleetBoston Financial Corp. A year later, the bank agreed to buy MBNA Corp., the credit-card firm. In 2007, Bank of America bought Chicago's LaSalle Bank as part of the break-up of Dutch bank ABN-Amro Holding NV. Then came this year's purchase of Countrywide.

As of Sunday evening, a deal had not yet been signed, said people briefed on the discussions. And other last-second bidders could emerge from the woodwork. Yet with news of the Bank of America talks breaking Sunday, it became all the more difficult for Merrill and Mr. Thain to rebuff a deal. Should the talks collapse, most on the Street were expecting Merrill's shares to fall even further amid widespread worries about independent broker-dealers.

Inside the Fed meetings in Lower Manhattan this weekend, there was a general worry that Merrill could be the next to fall after Lehman. Through the weekend, federal officials including Federal Reserve Bank of New York head Timothy Geithner made it clear that they strongly encouraged a deal to sell Merrill, said people familiar with the matter said.

If struck, a deal would come together at breakneck speed. On Friday, Bank of America's top executives were pushing for a deal with Lehman Brothers, scrambling to perform due diligence on Lehman's books. Just 48 hours later, they were locked in discussion with Merrill and its top executives.

During the flurry of historic dealmaking this weekend, Merrill approached Morgan Stanley about a possible deal, which would have united two of Wall Street's oldest brands, according to a person familiar with the talks. But the talks didn't go anywhere because there wasn't enough time for Morgan Stanley to review the idea and Merrill wanted to do the deal quickly, this person said. Merrill was also stepping up talks with commercial banks both in Europe and the U.S. While Mr. Thain had once orchestrated a trans-Atlantic deal for his old firm, NYSE Euronext, in this race, a U.S. deal proved the quickest, best option for Merrill.

'The Ultimate Realist'

"I think John Thain at Merrill is the ultimate realist," Ms. Bush said, the analyst, who expected federal regulators to bless the deal by relaxing deposit limits for bank-holding companies. "He knows if Lehman goes under he is not far behind. He wants to cut the best deal he can."

In the past 15 months, Merrill and Lehman have both had tens of billions of dollars worth of risky, illiquid assets carried on balance sheets that were leveraged at a debt-to-equity ratio of more than 20 to one. When the credit crunch hit in mid-2007, the assets kept deteriorating in value and couldn't easily be sold, eating into both firms' capital cushion. Recently, Lehman's balance sheet topped $600 billion and Merrill's $900 billion.

Merrill's one-time chief Stan O'Neal was ousted in October 2007, and his successor, Mr. Thain, tried to repair the firm's balance sheet by arranging an infusion of more than $6 billion in capital starting last December by investors led by Temasek Holdings, a Singapore government investment fund.

But as the losses kept coming this year, Mr. Thain was forced in July to sell a huge slug of more than $30 billion in collateralized debt obligations at a price of just 22 cents on the dollar. That step required the firm to raise still more capital, under painful terms that re-priced some of the December stock sales at about half the original price.

One top Merrill executive lamented the pending sale of the venerable company, saying "it's sad but inevitable." This executive said that he was pleased it was Merrill, rather than rival broker Morgan Stanley, that was hatching a deal with Bank of America.

The fate of both Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs will be front and center Monday morning, as the Street wakes up to a world where the independent broker-dealer are increasingly thin in number.

This tumultuous year has made it clear that investment banks like Lehman and Bear Stearns face vulnerabilities that commercial banks such as J.P. Morgan and Bank of America are less prone to. The investment banks must constantly depend on short- and medium-term money markets to fund their operations. Commercial banks, meanwhile, can count on more stable consumer deposit bases.

In a highly volatile market, some advantages accrue to banks that can rely on those more stable deposit bases.

At Merrill, "we became convinced that for investment banking to be possible, we need to be part of a much bigger capitalized commercial bank," the Merrill executive said.

Merrill acted to avoid the same fate as Bear Stearns and Lehman, some analysts said. "Bear didn't think it could happen to them and Lehman didn't think it could happen to them either," said analyst David Trone of Fox-Pitt, Kelton. "I think management looked at Bear and Lehman and said we're not going to go down that slope, we're going to try and get our shareholders something before we end up in the same camp."


Wall Street Prepares for Potential Lehman Bankruptcy (Update3)

By Craig Torres and Shannon Harrington

Sept. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Wall Street readied for a potential Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. bankruptcy after Bank of America Corp. and Barclays Plc pulled out of talks to buy it and the government indicated it wouldn't provide funds to prevent a collapse.

Banks and brokers today held a session for netting derivatives transactions with Lehman, or canceling trades that offset each other, in case the New York-based firm files for bankruptcy before midnight.

``The purpose of this session is to reduce risk associated with a potential Lehman'' bankruptcy, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association said in a statement today. The ISDA includes 218 banks, brokerages, insurance companies and other financial institutions from the U.S. and abroad.

The step indicates Wall Street lacks confidence that three days of talks to find a buyer for Lehman, held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, will be successful. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who has led the talks with New York Fed President Timothy Geithner, was adamant two days ago against using taxpayer funds to help a purchaser take Lehman over.

U.S. regulators are betting that the financial system will be able to withstand the failure of a large institution without severe disruptions to an already weak economy.

A benchmark gauge of credit risk that banks and investors use to speculate on corporate creditworthiness or to hedge against losses was being quoted at the widest levels ever, contingent on a Lehman bankruptcy.

Confidence Deteriorates

The Markit CDX North America Investment Grade Index, linked to the bonds of 125 companies in the U.S. and Canada, was trading at about 200 basis points, said Brian Yelvington, a strategist at CreditSights Inc. in New York. It closed at 152 basis points Sept. 12, according to CMA Datavision in London. The index, which rises as investor confidence falls, reached 198 basis points in March, CMA data show.

A gauge of risk in the U.S. leveraged-loan market that falls as credit risk increases was being quoted 1.75 percentage points lower, contingent on a Lehman bankruptcy, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The Markit LCDX index was being quoted at a mid- price of 94.25. The index is tied to the high-yield, high-risk loans of 100 companies.

If Lehman files for bankruptcy, ``that obviously puts a lot more risk in the market, so it's definitely going to be wider,'' Yelvington said.

Paulson's Stance

Paulson opposed using government money because Wall Street has had time to prepare for the Lehman situation, a person familiar with his thinking said two days ago. That would make the case different from the Bear Stearns Cos. collapse in March, when the Fed provided $29 billion of financing to help JPMorgan Chase & Co. take over the firm.

``Treasury and the Fed have determined that markets have adjusted to the situation since Bear Stearns,'' said Gilbert Schwartz, a partner at Schwartz & Ballen LLP in Washington and a former Fed Board attorney. ``If the markets, every time a big institution went bust, expected the government to step in, no one would ever adapt.''

Paulson, Geithner and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox held talks with Wall Street chiefs from the evening of Sept. 12.

The market value for all over-the-counter derivatives swelled 50 percent last year to $14.52 trillion, with interest- rate contracts accounting for almost half of the total, according to the Bank for International Settlements.

Insolvent Banks

After the Bear Stearns episode, Paulson pushed for a resolution mechanism to shutter a failing investment bank, similar to how the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. resolves insolvent commercial banks.

``We must limit the perception that some institutions are either too big or too interconnected to fail,'' Paulson said in a June 19 speech. ``If we are to do that credibly, we must address the reality that some are.''

Without such a mechanism in place, a failing firm has the option of filing for bankruptcy. Bear Stearns officials told the Fed in March they would have to make such a filing without emergency assistance.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said in April that he wanted to avoid another Bear Stearns case.

``The financing we did for Bear Stearns is a one-time event,'' Bernanke said in April. ``It's never happened before and I hope it never happens again.''

Lehman Trades

The fourth-largest securities firm until the past week, Lehman has thousands of such trades in credit, equity, commodity, interest rates and currency derivatives.

The ISDA said the ``netting trading session'' began at 2 p.m. and will continue until at least 6 p.m. New York time.

``Trades are contingent on a bankruptcy filing at or before 11:59 p.m. New York time, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2008,'' the ISDA said. ``If there is no filing, the trades cease to exist.''

Barclays, the U.K.'s third-biggest bank, said earlier today it abandoned talks to buy Lehman, contending it couldn't obtain guarantees to protect against potential losses at the U.S. securities firm.

Less than three hours after the Barclays news, Bank of America also pulled out, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Craig Torres in Washington at ctorres3@bloomberg.netShannon Harrington in New York at


6 Responses to “BOA buys Merrill for 44 bill and Lehman No more”

  1. Debt Dummy Says:

    Wow. I work for Countrywide Bank. Hopefully I will have a job with Bank of America... I cannot believe they moved on to buy another company so quickly. I don't think the LaSalle aquisition is quite done... and I know CWB's isn't. There are so many people who don't know if they even have jobs yet.

  2. baselle Says:

    What are the odds that BAC is attempting to buy its way into Mae and Mac territory & try to make themselves too big too fail... (or too big to bail?)

  3. Broken Arrow Says:

    I can't see why they would get involved with Fannie and Freddie... but that's coming from me, so please take it for what that's worth. Thing is, the government has already stepped in and closed the shop so to speak.

    Merrill, on the other hand, is trying to cut a deal to avoid Lehman's fate. The less of two evils.

    Now BoA... yes... that IS interesting, isn't it?

    Anyways, merch, looks like you were right about Lehman, even if they did linger a bit longer than anticipated.

  4. Aleta Says:

    I wonder with all of the acquisitions of the money that BOA will need to raise that they will offer CD's with higher rates or money markets or savings account for that matter?

  5. baselle Says:

    BA - no, no, what I meant was is BofA trying puff itself out by buying so that they become too big to fail. Agreed that Mac and Mae are done for as companies.

  6. Broken Arrow Says:

    Oh! I see what you mean. I wonder about that myself, and that's also why BoA is on my "don't touch" list.

    All those acquisitions at once need ample time to be digested, and in the meantime, there are too many question marks regarding how well BoA can manage all this.

    Plus, I don't believe there is such a thing as "too big to fail". As we have all seen from all these toppling financials, it's not only possible, it's also quite real.

    However, I do think there is such a thing as "too big to bail". Especially with Lehman, Uncle Sam has clearly demonstrated that he indeed has a limit as to how much he's willing to get involved.

    As always, it's just my personal opinion here so please take it for what it's worth.

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