Merrill Lynch Profit More Than Triples, Tops Estimates

Merrill Lynch, the world's largest brokerage, said Thursday its first-quarter profit soared from a year ago, when it took a charge related to its acquisition of asset manager BlackRock.

Excluding that charge, the nation's largest retail brokerage still posted a 31% increase in profit, thanks to robust takeover activity and high trading volumes.

The New York-based financial company reported first-quarter profit of $2.11 billion, or $2.26 a share, after preferred dividends. This was up from $432 million, or 44 cents a share, in the same period a year ago, when it recorded $1.2 billion in one-time compensation expenses related to BlackRock.

Excluding those expenses, Merrill Lynch had first-quarter earnings last year of $1.61 billion, or $1.65 a share.

Revenue rose 24% to $9.85 billion compared to $7.97 billion in the year-ago period.

The results beat Wall Street expectations. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial had forecast a profit of $1.97 a share on revenue of $9.06 billion.

Merrill Lynch was the last of the five major Wall Street investment banks to report first-quarter earnings, and the firm extended the trend of strong earnings in the industry. Goldman Sachs had a record first quarter, while Morgan Stanley,Lehman Brothers Holdings, and Bear Stearns all reported first-quarter results that surpassed those of a year ago.