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Merrill: Why It's The Big Story

Merrill Lynchis far and away the big story today.

Two weeks after reporting huge losses, Merrill Lynch has surprised the Street with significant sales and capital raising. They are:

1) selling $30.6 b in CDOs. They were carried on the books at a value of $11.1 b; buyer Lone Star is paying $6.7 b ($0.22 on the dollar), but Merrill is financing three-quarters of the sale;

2) recording a writedown of $5.7 b;

3) will raise $8.5 b in new capital from common shareholders, including $3.4 b from Temasek, the Singapore investment arm that is already Merrill's biggest shareholder.

The capital raising was a surprise, particularly since the Street believed management had signaled that further capital raises were unlikely.

The good news here is that Merrill is actually selling assets, rather than just marking them down.

The bad news is that Merrill's peers will be under pressure to write down more assets. Indeed, Deutsche Bank lowered earnings estimates for Citigroup following the moves by Merrill.

This is a significant dilution of shareholder equity, but reaction on the Street has been generally positive. Meredith Whitney at Oppenheimer said, "the stock is getting closer to fairly valued levels" and "we applaud this purging of assets as an attempt to cut its losses and focus on stabilizing its platform and righting the franchise towards growth."

Who is the winner here? The firms who have money to buy these distressed assets at pennies on the dollar. Goldman has just raised a $10B fund to invest in distressed securities.

Merrill is up fractionally, as other financials like JP Morganand Lehman; Citi however is trading down.

Elsewhere:

1) U.S. Steel up 8 percent pre-open, earning $5.65, way above expectations of $3.91, revenues also above expectations.


Questions? Comments? tradertalk@cnbc.com

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  • A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

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