Merrill Lynch Reports 68% Increase In Earnings, Boosts Dividend

Merrill Lynch, the world's largest brokerage, said fourth-quarter profits rose 68% on stronger debt and equity offerings and robust gains from private equity investments.

Merrill Lynch , based in New York, said fourth-quarter net income climbed 68% to $2.3 billion, or $2.41 a share, up from $1.4 billion, or $1.41 a share, in the year-earlier period.

On average, analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call expected the company to earn $1.92 a share, according to Thomson Financial.

Overall, net revenue rose 27% to $8.61 billion from $6.78 billion.

Revenue from principal transactions, which include private equity deals, more than tripled to $2.2 billion. Investment banking revenue climbed 41%, to $1.3 billion, as debt and equity originations offset other revenue declines, including merger and acquisition advisory fees.

"By virtually any measure, our company completed the most successful year in its history," said Chairman and Chief Executive Stan O'Neal in a statement.

Merrill also said it raised its quarterly dividend 40% to 35 cents from 25 cents. The dividend will be payable March 1 to shareholders of record Feb. 7.

The company will hold a conference call and webcast at 10 am New York time to discuss the results.