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Merrill `co-opted' Analysts Backed Auction-rate Debt To The End

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Aug. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Four days before Merrill Lynch & Co. stopped supporting the auction-rate securities market and left thousands of individual investors stuck with securities they couldn't sell, the firm's analysts recommended clients buy.

``Reports of the imminent demise of the auction market seem to be greatly exaggerated, again,'' analyst Kevin Conery wrote in a Feb. 8 research note. ``We continue to be impressed by the auction market's resiliency.''

The remarks show Merrill's researchers were ``co-opted'' during a seven-month drive by the New York-based firm's sales force to prevent a meltdown in the $330 billion market, Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin alleged yesterday in an administrative complaint filed in Boston. As the sales desk pushed analysts to publish upbeat notes, managers used gallows humor to complain about a ``collapsing'' market and the end of $2,000 dinners.

``Come on down and visit us in the vomitorium!!'' the auction-rate desk's managing director, Frances Constable, wrote to a co-worker in August, as demand began to dry up. ``Market is collapsing,'' another executive cited in Galvin's complaint said in a November 2007 personal e-mail. ``No more $2K dinners at CRU,'' a Manhattan restaurant where the wine list includes dozens of bottles for more than $1,000.

Galvin, 57, wants the third-largest U.S. securities firm to ``make good'' on sales of now-frozen holdings, compensate investors who disposed of their bonds or shares at a loss and pay an unspecified fine. He has already filed a related claim against Zurich-based UBS AG, and is probing Bank of America Corp.

`Significant Danger'

``Research analysts routinely soft-pedaled significant negative events affecting liquidity in the auction markets,'' he said in the complaint. At the same time, managers knew ``the auction markets were not functioning properly and were in fact in significant danger of collapsing,'' he said.

Conery, 47, received a ``six-figure'' bonus for 2007 after his year-end review credited him for ``proactive and timely interchange'' with the sales desk and clients, according to the complaint. ``Ultimately, his work contributed to better liquidity and lower inventory levels in the marketplace,'' the reviewer said.

Merrill denied that its analysts acted improperly in recommending auction-rate securities, also known as ARS.

Self serving bar stewards.

Robbing everyone to make the banker rich.

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  • 396 Brexit, House prices and Summer 2020

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      • down 5% +
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