Haste Makes Waste: Merrill and BofA

Good piece in the NYT tonight that reiterates what a dopey, rushed deal BofA made for Merrill last September. If you’ve been paying attention it won’t tell you much that you don’t already know, but it’s a good reminder that the deal was decaying from the start.

After a weekend of whirlwind deal-making and emergency meetings at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, John A. Thain and his team at Merrill Lynch had sold their troubled brokerage firm to the Bank of America Corporation, dodging the financial sinkhole that was swallowing Lehman Brothers.

But before Wachtell lawyers, who were representing Bank of America, signed off on the deal, they told Merrill’s lawyers that they wanted to be sure about just one more thing: the size of the bonuses that Mr. Thain and his colleagues would snare at the end of the year. A page was ripped from a notebook, and someone on Merrill’s team scribbled eight-digit figures for each of Merrill’s top five executives, including $40 million for Mr. Thain alone.

Although Merrill had been bleeding money all year — and would continue to do so — the bonuses weren’t, as Merrill executives later explained to colleagues, about that performance. Rather, they were fees for getting the merger done, akin to what investment bankers receive for blockbuster deals. Mr. Thain in particular felt he deserved a hefty payout for his deal-making heroics, according to five individuals with detailed knowledge of the situation who requested anonymity because of their personal and business relationships with those involved.

…But the merger, in which Bank of America agreed to pay about $50 billion in stock for Merrill, soured at light speed. Back then, the combined companies would have been valued by the stock market at about $176 billion. Today, the combination has a market capitalization of only $39 billion.

Read it here.