Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and then-Treasury Department chief Henry Paulson pressured Bank of America Corp. to not discuss its increasingly troubled plan to buy Merrill Lynch & Co. -- a deal that later triggered a government bailout of BofA -- according to testimony by Kenneth Lewis, the bank's chief executive.
...The Wall Street Journal previously reported, in a page-one story on Feb. 5, that Mr. Lewis agreed to proceed with the Merrill merger only after Messrs. Paulson and Bernanke said that he and his board would lose their jobs if Bank of America backed out of the deal. Mr. Lewis's testimony with the New York attorney general's office corroborates that account.
Mr. Cuomo's office says it has been unable to gather a full picture of the Fed's role in the December discussions because the Fed has invoked a regulatory privilege, allowing it to keep some documents confidential.
Mr. Lewis has previously said that he first considered backing out of the Merrill deal on Dec. 13, when he said his chief financial officer told him projected after-tax losses were "about $12 billion."
Shareholders of the Charlotte, N.C., bank voted to approve the purchase on Dec. 5, and the deal was completed on Jan. 1.
Bank of America agreed to accept $20 billion in new capital from the government and announced the injection, in conjunction with the Merrill losses, with its regularly scheduled earnings release on Jan. 20.
Mr. Lewis has since been vilified by lawmakers and shareholders for his handling of the purchase. Several investors, including TIAA-CREF, a major pension-fund manager, have said they intend to vote against his re-election as chairman. Some argued that Mr. Lewis should have informed shareholders of the potential losses at Merrill before the Jan. 1 closing of the deal.
During his testimony, Mr. Lewis described a conversation with Mr. Paulson in which the Treasury secretary made it clear that Mr. Lewis's own job was at stake. Mr. Lewis still was considering invoking his legal right to terminate the Merrill deal. Mr. Paulson was out on a bike ride when Mr. Lewis phoned to discuss the matter, according to the transcript.
"I can't recall if he said, 'We would remove the board and management if you called it [off]' or if he said 'we would do it if you intended to.' I don't remember which one it was," Mr. Lewis said. "I said, 'Hank, let's de-escalate this for a while. Let me talk to our board.' "
Thursday, April 23, 2009
No time for ideology sorry