Bank of America Agrees to Settle Charges Over Merrill Purchase
Bank of America has agreed to pay $2.43 billion to settle a class action lawsuit stemming from its 2008 deal to purchase Merrill Lynch. If approved, the settlement would represent the largest of its kind to come out of the financial crisis.
Plaintiffs in a 2009 lawsuit alleged that Bank of America withheld key details about the health of both firms before the merger was finalized, charges that bank officials have denied.
The agreement to buy Merrill Lynch was struck the same weekend as the Lehman Brothers collapse and was designed, in part, to help minimize the panic from Lehman’s bankruptcy.
The plan didn’t work. Credit markets soon froze, hammering Merrill Lynch with as much as $15 billion in losses. In January 2009, the same month the merger was finalized, Merrill’s losses pushed Bank of America to accept $20 billion in bailout funds on top of the combined $25 billion that both firms received in 2008.
In their lawsuit, Bank of America shareholders charged that Merrill’s losses — as well as $5.8 billion in bonuses for Merrill executives and employees — were kept from them in the run-up to a vote on the merger.
“Resolving this litigation removes uncertainty and risk and is in the best interests of our shareholders,” Chief Executive Officer Brian Moynihan said in a statement Friday announcing the settlement. He added that as the bank works “to put these long-standing issues behind us, our primary focus is on the future and serving our customers and clients.”
As part of the settlement, Bank of America has also agreed to institute several corporate governance policies. The proposed settlement still needs court approval and will be reviewed by Judge Kevin Castel in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.