Merrill Lynch Says Retention 'Stable' at 15,000 as Trailing-12 Hits $830,000 in Q4'09

In contrast, rival Morgan Stanley - 18,135 advisors in its Morgan Stanley Smith Barney venture - just reported that its fourth-quarter trailing-12-month sales stand at $692,000.

This news article originally appeared on ResearchMag.com on 1/20.

Bank of America-Merrill Lynch says its financial-advisor force (aka "the thundering herd" of brokers) is stable at 15,006 as of the end of 2009. This does put the total number of FAs down about 800, though, from the 15,882 it reported as of March 31, 2009.

"In Global Wealth and Investment Management, the financial advisor network of more than 15,000 was up slightly from the third quarter as the retention rate stood at the highest level in recent years and the company increased hiring, training and development of new advisors," the company says.

In terms of trailing-12-month sales or production, Merrill advisors are now at $830,000 on average for the fourth quarter of 2009 and $817,000 for the full year 2009.

Client balances in Merrill Lynch accounts total $1.43 trillion.

The GWIM unit is now lead by Sallie Krawcheck, formerly of Citi/Smith Barney.

Rival Morgan Stanley - with 18,135 advisors in its Morgan Stanley Smith Barney venture - just reported that its fourth-quarter trailing-12-month sales stand at $692,000. Client assets are $1.6 trillion.

Bank of America's U.S. Trust unit has 3,957 advisors vs. 4.473 at the end of 2008. Client balances total $316 billion.

For the full year 2009, Bank of America says Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management net income grew 22 percent to $1.5 billion, out of total net income for the Global Wealth and Investment Management unit of $2.5 billion.

U.S. Trust/Bank of America Private Wealth Management net income declined to $174 million as net revenue fell and credit costs increased significantly, including the impact of a single large commercial charge-off in the third quarter.

And Columbia Management's net loss narrowed to $7 million compared with a net loss of $469 million a year earlier, driven by a $917 million reduction in support provided to certain cash funds, partially offset by the impact of lower valuations in the equity markets, as well as net outflows in the cash complex.

Net revenue for the GWIM unit more than doubled to $18.1 billion in 2009 on higher investment and brokerage service income from the addition of Merrill Lynch, a $1.1 billion gain related to the BlackRock equity investment and the lower level of support for certain cash funds.

The provision for credit losses increased $397 million to $1.1 billion driven by higher net charge-offs in the consumer real estate portfolio, as well as higher net charge-offs and reserve increases in the commercial portfolios.

For the fourth-quarter, BofA's GWIM unit grew net income $816 million to $1.3 billion, compared with the same period last year as revenue increased to $5.5 billion. The increase in revenue was driven primarily by the Merrill Lynch acquisition and the gain related to the BlackRock equity interest.

Merrill Lynch accounted for $446 million of net income and $3.1 billion of net revenue in the fourth quarter.

In a press conference on January 14, Merrill's Krawcheck spoke of record-low attrition among its broker force in the fourth quarter of 2009.

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