Toomre Capital Markets LLC

Real-Time Capital Markets -- Analytics, Visualization, Event Processing, and Intelligence

Stan O'Neal

Merrill Upped Ante as Boom in Mortgage Bonds Fizzled

Toomre Capital Markets LLC("TCM") has previously written about Jeff Kronthal Returns to Merrill Lynch and the absolutely abysmal performance put in by former CEO Stan O'Neal in the TCM post Merrill Lynch's Stan O'Neal: Why Is He Even Still Employed? Ahead of Merrill Lynch's expected announcement of abysmal first quarter earnings, on Wednesday April 16th 2008, The Wall Street Journal ran a front page story written by Susan Pullman (and others) entitled Merrill Upped Ante as Boom in Mortgage Bonds Fizzled. While the article sheds favorable light on Merrill Lynch's new CEO John Thain and (old TCM friend) Jeffrey Kronthal since their respective arrivals in December 2007, the article absolutely savages the former Merrill Lynch fixed-income and senior management. With the expected total write-downs now expected to approach $30 billion, it is very clear how absolutely out of control Merrill Lynch truly was since mid-2006 when Jeff Kronthal was famously relieved for not taking enough risk in the Collateralized Mortgage Obligation ("CDOs") business.

This article explains Merrill Lynch "revved up its production of complex debt securities -- despite a shortage of buyers for them -- in what turned out to be a misguided effort to limit its losses. Its torrid underwriting loaded Merrill with exposure to mortgage securities, whose top credit rating provided scant protection when investors fled. Then Merrill made another fateful move: trying to hedge some of its massive mortgage risk through bond insurers whose strength was questionable." Now among those that are keenly interested in learning what went wrong and when the Merrill Lynch managers knew the extent of their troubles is the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC"), which "is examining whether Merrill and other firms should have told investors sooner about the stumbling mortgage business last year."

From the article, in 2006 risk controls at Merrill Lynch were beginning to loosen. Apparently a senior risk manager, John Breit, then the head of market-risk management, was ignored when he objected to certain underwriting risks. It is suggested that as a result, senior Merrill Lynch management then demoted the head of market risk management position within the management hierarchy lead to Mr. Briet's resignation. The article continues,