Merrill leads Wall Street towards a bumper year

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NEW YORK - The first flood of third- quarter earnings from Wall Street suggests that US securities firms are headed for a bumper year, led by the largest firm, Merrill Lynch, whose pre-tax earnings jumped 63 per cent to a record dollars 642m, writes Larry Black.

Two other large firms also reporting yesterday, Bear Stearns and PaineWebber, similarly exceeded expectations, topping records set in the second quarter of this year.

After tax, Merrill earned dollars 359.7m, or dollars 3.12 a share, profiting from the surge in both commission and underwriting activity on Wall Street. A year ago, Merrill earned dollars 2.04 a share. The firm took advantage of the news to announce a two- for-one share split and increased its quarterly dividend by 14 per cent.

At all three firms, revenues maintained the brisk pace of the second quarter. At Merrill and Bear Stearns, investment banking revenues set new records: Merrill's rose to dollars 452m, while at Bear Stearns they almost doubled year-on- year to dollars 120m.

Bear Stearns earned dollars 104.3m after tax, or 81 cents a share, just shy of the 84 cents a share it earned in the previous three months, but 47 per cent ahead of the same quarter a year ago.

PaineWebber earned dollars 59m for the quarter, up from dollars 51m a year ago.