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A Stimulating Conversation, a Bad Day for Merrill
The White House and Congress are talking economic stimulus, and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke may be on board. Merrill Lynch posts a record loss and new writedowns. And J.P. Morgan is on the prowl.
 

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EWS AT A GLANCE

Time to talk stimulus?

President Bush and congressional leaders discussed possible measures last night to give the flagging economy a short-term boost, like tax rebates. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is “generally supportive” of an economic stimulus package, Sen. Charles Schumer (D, NY) said before Bernanke’s congressional testimony today. (AP in Yahoo! Finance) But Bernanke needs to avoid backing specific proposals, analysts said, to avoid the “intense” regret former Chairman Alan Greenspan voiced last year for endorsing 2001 tax cuts. “The last thing he needs is another controversy,” said strategist Greg Valliere at Stanford Group. (Bloomberg)

Merrill loses $9.8 billion

Merrill Lynch posted a record quarterly loss of $9.8 billion, or $12.01 a share, after writing down at least $14.1 billion in subprime mortgage assets and bad trades. (Reuters) Analysts were expecting a $4.70-a-share loss. (AP in Yahoo! Finance) The results cement Merrill’s first full-year loss since 1989. Since taking over as CEO last month, John Thain has raised more than $12 billion in capital from outside investors, including $6.6 billion announced Tuesday. “Thain is repositioning the firm to start fresh with a strong balance sheet, once these couple of bad quarters get out of the way,” said Standard & Poor’s analyst Matthew Albrecht. (Bloomberg)

Healthy banks looking for bargains

With the subprime-mortgage fiasco punishing the balance sheets of financial firms, the banks that have come out relatively unscathed are in a good position to buy up weakened rivals. Goldman Sachs has picked up several mortgage-related firms recently, and Wells Fargo has bought three banks in the past six months. And J.P. Morgan, after its lower-than-expected writedowns helped push its market capitalization above Citigroup’s yesterday, is about to make a big play, CEO James Dimon suggested yesterday. “In terms of buying assets or buying companies, we are very open-minded,” Dimon said. (The Wall Street Journal)
 

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