Merrill Lynch earnings slip

/ Source: The Associated Press

Profits at brokerage Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. fell 2 percent for the fourth quarter, but still managed to beat Wall Street expectations by a comfortable margin, the company announced Tuesday. The company also announced record results for the full year.

For the quarter ending Dec. 31, the company earned $1.19 billion, or $1.19 per share, down from $1.22 billion, or $1.19 a share, in the fourth quarter of 2003. Quarterly sales came to $5.89 billion, up 21 percent from $4.85 billion a year ago.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call expected earnings of $1.10 per share on revenues of $5.28 billion.

Stan O'Neal, chairman and chief executive of Merrill Lynch, said a strong fourth quarter helped the brokerage post its record results for 2004. He said that each of the company's three major divisions _ investment banking, private clients and investment management _ saw strong results.

"Overall, despite market conditions throughout the year that were quite volatile, we finished 2004 well positioned to continue to reward shareholders in the future," O'Neal said.

The company's investment management division, which oversees investments for a wide variety of clients, saw a 37 percent rise in profits, followed by a 28 percent jump in the investment banking division, which handles underwriting and other services for corporations. The global private client business, which serves wealthy individuals, posted a 3 percent rise in profits for the quarter.

Expenses, however, rose by $362 million in the quarter, due to consolidation of the firm's investments and higher provisions for litigation.

For all of 2004, the brokerage earned $4.44 billion, or $4.38 per share, a 16 percent jump from 2003's profit of $3.84 billion, or $3.87 a share. Revenues for the full year came in at $22 billion, up 19 percent from the prior year's revenues of $19.87 billion.

Analysts expected Merrill Lynch to earn $4.30 per share, with revenues of $21.51 billion, for the full year.