Merrill Lynch & Co. has until April 19 to reach a settlement with New York’s attorney general on how much more it must disclose about the investment banking business it does or hopes to get from companies rated by its analysts.
The extension is for Merrill Lynch to provide records about the thousands of publicly traded companies its analysts scrutinize and the hundreds of firms with which it has business relationships, said Darren Dopp said, spokesman for New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
In a statement, Merrill Lynch said it would try “to see if we can agree on additional disclosure regarding investment banking relationships with covered companies, as well as the distribution of buy, hold and sell recommendations within industry sectors.”
Spitzer, who is investigating claims of conflicts of interest by analysts at Merrill Lynch and other large Wall Street firms, claims Merrill Lynch analysts lied to clients and recommended shares they knew were probably bad investments.
The investigation, which homed in on Merrill Lynch’s Internet research arm, uncovered a series of e-mail messages that Spitzer offered as evidence that analysts had doubts about some stocks even while they maintained positive recommendations.
Critics say analysts often promote shares of companies to help win lucrative merger and acquisition or stock underwriting fees from those same companies.
Merrill Lynch says Spitzer’s accusations are baseless and that the evidence he made public this week was taken out of context.
Spitzer had obtained the order from a judge Monday requiring Merrill Lynch to make the additional disclosures. The original deadline to comply was Thursday.
Dopp said Spitzer’s negotiating position is that Merrill Lynch must comply with the court order, and that the only issues on the table are “how that happens and how the court order is implemented.”
“We’re going to insist on the greatest amount of disclosure possible to protect consumers and, to us, it’s clear what disclosures must be made,” he said.
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