Merrill Lynch shares down 75 cents; on report 2,000 jobs to be cut


NEW YORK - Shares of Merrill Lynch & Co., the world's largest securities firm, slipped yesterday after a published report that the company is considering pruning up to 2,000 jobs, or about 2.9 percent of its worldwide work force.

The Wall Street Journal, citing unidentified people familiar with the plan, said Merrill Lynch is considering eliminating the jobs from its flagship brokerage division in a cost-cutting measure.

The move could save the firm as much as $150 million a year, according to the newspaper.

Merrill Lynch, which has one of the industry's most recognizable logos - a bull - declined to comment on the report, but analysts say the firm is likely to make the cuts in a pre-emptive strike against less-easy times ahead.

"This is an orderly belt-tightening; expense growth has been overshadowed by strong revenue growth," said analyst Michael Flanagan of Financial Service Analytics. "What is really driving the issue here is that even the most optimistic firms cannot expect to sustain revenue growth at these levels."

Merrill Lynch, like other securities firms, reported record first-quarter profit of more than $1 billion, buoyed by strong stock markets and fees from helping companies go public and advising them on mergers.

But a recent slump in the Nasdaq stock market and a dearth of new stock offerings has put a dent in the long-running bull market for stocks.

The company's shares fell 75 cents to $123.25 yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange.

If the job cuts occur, it would represent the largest cutback at the company since 1998, when it slashed 3,400 jobs in the wake of losses in the bond markets.

Merrill Lynch's brokerage division has about 37,000 employees, including about 14,400 brokers. In all, the firm employs 68,600 people.

The cuts are not expected to involve the firm's brokerage sales force, the Journal said; the jobs will be eliminated from Merrill Lynch's marketing and technology areas.

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