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Why Bank of America (BAC) should drop the Merrill Lynch name tag

17 Apr

Merrill Lynch was one of the worst Wall Street firms in history. Period. They leveraged their balance sheet into the stratosphere in toxic illiquid assets whose value could not be measured. Stan O’Neil, the former CEO, lacked the knowledge and cross-product experience to take the healm at ML. Merrill Lynch were one the key players in the sub prime market and racked up losses in excess of $7 billion dollars, which are frankly conservative estimates.  O’Neal’s remuneration was $48 million in 2006 and $46 million in 2007 and his eventual exit package was approx $160 million. I don’t believe any of O’Neil’s adventures into the sub prime area had any fraudulent undertones; it is more an issue of competence and plain ignorance.

Bank of America’s biggest division is the Global Consumer and Small Business Banking (GC&SBB) unit which is the largest by revenue. The company is headquarted in Charlotte, North Carolina and expanded out of California across the US. While I don’t prefer any financials or insurance stocks, and would not advocate being invested in either, the situation here is trying to make the best out of horrible circumstances. Clearly, financials can rise from here but this article is purely focused on semantics in terms of corporate identity. Bank of America is perceived as a consumer and small business franchise, conservative and cautious compared to the pure play investment banking franchises. Merrill Lynch is a story of a battered franchise bailed out by Bank of America in an over-priced premature takeover.  These two organisations as entities do not mesh well.  Negative connotations are already being transmitted to the core Bank of America franchise.

The Merrill Lynch brand is dead in the dumps. It represents financial terrorism, uncapped leveraging in toxic trash. There is clearly a wide disconnect between the Bank of America and Merrill Lynch franchises. Brian Moynihan is still relatively new in post so he is still able to transition or phase out the Merrill Lynch brand, as clearly the synergies between the brand entities are non-existent.

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