Merrill Lynch board weighs fate of CEO

As Merrill Lynch’s board deliberates the fate of chairperson and chief executive Stan O’Neal, a leading contender for the job on Sunday said he is not aware of being a candidate.

Meanwhile, Merrill’s board has reached a broad consensus to remove O’Neal as chairperson and CEO, the New York Times reported on Sunday. Merrill Lynch declined comment. The newspaper said details remain to be worked out, including who will take over and what the timing of O’Neal’s departure will be.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that O’Neal has decided to leave. He was not immediately available for comment.

O’Neal’s grip on the top job weakened after the company posted its biggest quarterly loss in the 93-history of the company. Last week, the company’s third-quarter results showed a $2,3-billion loss after writing down $8,4-billion in assets, mostly because of bad bets related to risky subprime loans.

The company’s stock surged 8.5% on Friday after reports said O’Neal (56) would be replaced.

Candidates include Larry Fink, the CEO of asset manager BlackRock and Robert McCann, who oversees Merrill’s 16 600 brokers. Merrill Lynch star investment banker Greg Fleming also may have an important role in a new regime, according to people familiar with the situation.

Fink told Reuters on Sunday that he is not aware of being a candidate for O’Neal’s job.

”How would I know if I am a candidate,” Fink said when reached by telephone at his home. ”You would know better than me. I am a happy CEO of BlackRock.”

Fink’s brief remarks were his first public ones since his name has been floated as a candidate.

Merrill shares surged 8,5% on Friday — their biggest single day move in five years — on reports that O’Neal would be replaced.

Members of Merrill’s board apparently became angry when they learned O’Neal had floated a merger proposal with US bank Wachovia without their knowledge, the New York Times reported on Friday.

Board members have declined to comment. – Reuters

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