Owning Merrill

July 29, 2008

wallst.jpgFresh capital from wealth fund Temasek Holdings may do plenty to clean up Merrill Lynch‘s balance sheet, and has the potential to boost the Singapore wealth fund’s stake in the struggling investment behemoth to 15 percent. That could be an uncomfortable level for U.S. politicians, and breaches a previously informal agreement to refrain from owning more than 10 percent of Merrill, according to a source familiar with the fund. A Temasek spokeswoman said on Tuesday that a portion of the deal is subject to regulatory approval. Citigroup is the other big U.S. bank to have gone to foreign wealth funds for big buckets of bail-out funding. If it ends up having to take more CDO-related write-downs to match the new bargain basement price one assumes Temasek is paying for its new stock of Merrill shares (they aren’t saying what the price might be) this whole thing could turn very political just as the race for the White House enters the final stretch.

British Airways says it is in talks with Spanish carrier Iberia about a potential all-share merger, sending shares in the UK airline up nearly 9 percent. Britain’s flagship carrier said in a statement the discussions had the support of both companies, although it expected it would take several months before terms could be agreed. BA’s chief executive, Willie Walsh, said the move made sense in current market conditions. BA owns 13.15 percent of the Spanish carrier, while Iberia has taken a 2.99 percent direct stake in BA, on top of exposure to a further 6.99 percent through contracts for differences linked to the BA share price. BA said both parties were confident of securing regulatory approval, adding that the European Union had already allowed the duo to cooperate widely.

Other deals of the day:

* Japanese TV and media group Tokyo Broadcasting System said it would spend $195 million to buy a majority stake in retailer StylingLife Holdings from Citigroup‘s merchant banking unit in Japan.

* Central European Media Enterprises has bought an 80 percent stake in two Bulgarian television stations for $172 million, expanding its reach in eastern Europe, the company said.

* Kumho Tires is seeking investors to take over a $109 million stake in itself that U.S.-based Cooper Tire & Rubber plans to sell, an official at the South Korean company said.

* Autoliv, the world’s biggest maker of air bags and seat belts, said it had agreed to buy the automotive radar sensors business of Tyco Electronics for $42 million.

* IT and engineering services firm Rolta India said it acquired Chicago-based WhittmanHart Consulting, a division of WhittmanHart Inc.

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