Class loyalty will tell: The state hires Merrill Lynch as financial advisers


The Irish government has called in as financial adviser Henrietta Baldock of the remarkable loss making machine that is Merrill Lynch

Doh! Merrill Lynch boss loses another €20 billion

The Irish government has called in as financial adviser Henrietta Baldock of the remarkable loss making machine that is Merrill Lynch

The Irish Times has reported that the government has taken on two outside advisers,
Pádraig Ó Ríordáin of Arthur Cox solicitors and Henrietta Baldock of Merrill Lynch. Arthur Cox are one of Ireland’s premier firms of corporate lawyers. Merrill Lynch, formerly one of the big five Wall Street investment banks, is a much bigger fish. In 2008, however, they became a global laughing stock due to their regular quarterly announcements of billions of euros in loses.

Their net loss for 2007 was $7.8 billion 1. John A. Thain, chairman and chief executive officer, was quoted as saying that although the results were “unacceptable”, he looked forward in 2008 to “…delivering growth and increased profitability for our shareholders and employees”. 2

But reality trumped rhetoric and Merrill Lynch suffered $1.96 billion in first quarter losses, $4.65 billion in the second quarter, and $5.2 billion in the third. But that wasn’t enough. As the banking crisis was going nova last September, US Treasury secretary, and former investment banker, Hank Paulson convened the weekend meeting of American bankers which set in motion the massive tax-payer subsidies for the super-wealthy.

During that meeting, Bank of America agreed to take over Merrill Lynch, thereby saving it from extinction. After some €18 billion in losses in less than 2 years, it was hoped that Merrill Lynch would have reached the bottom.

Far from it. Instead it announced in January 2009 that it suffered a further €20 billion in losses for the fourth quarter alone, despite the huge subsidies being thrown at it by the US Treasury. The massive losses were enough to jeopardise the future of the Bank of America itself, and so, yet again, the state stepped in and handed over another €20 billion of tax-payers’ money.4 Naturally, after losing so much money, Merrill Lynch executives paid themselves huge bonuses.5

Other Merrill Lynch Highlights

• The Irish government previously employed Merrill Lynch together with AIB to advise them on the privatisation of Telecom Eireann at a cost of some £70 million.5

• Merrill Lynch misled investors on Enron, and had to pay some €280 million in compensation.6

• Last year, Merrill Lynch, including Henrietta Baldock, advised the Royal Bank of Scotland consortium in its takeover of Dutch bank ABN-AMRO. Widely considered one of the worst transactions of 2008, the RBS led consortium lost some €15-20 billion in the deal. Meanwhile, Merrill Lynch picked up €300 million in fees.7

$40 billion down the tube

Merrill Lynch didn’t just lose some €40 billion dollars due to bad luck. It’s not as if there were any natural disasters, government rules, or even competitors’ actions that destroyed their investments. Rather, over a period of years they helped build up the asset bubble to a completely unsustainable extent. They didn’t just make a few misplaced predictions of the viability of this or that enterprise. It takes hard work, arrogance, and copious amounts of idiocy, a rather dangerous cocktail at the best of times, to sustain that sort of black hole.

After all, losing €40 billion is actually pretty hard to do. There is plenty of talk about the Irish state running a deficit in 2009 of well over €5 billion. But at least the state will provide education, medical care, and public transport as well running the fire brigade, street cleaning and a myriad of other public services.

When a corporation like Merrill Lynch, which doesn’t have the public service obligations of the state, manages to chalk up losses of that magnitude it can only be put down to incompetence and a truly world-class level of intellectual dimness.

Naked Class Interests

Naturally, those who are demonstrably clueless about economics should not be employed as senior advisors to any government. That much is obvious. But there is a further reason for dispensing with the services of Merrill Lynch as well as Irish corporate lawyers: class interest.

Ó Ríordáin and Baldock will carry with them the baggage of their professions, namely, that of being legal and financial advisors to major capitalists. Apart from the dubious nature of their expertise, their advice is overwhelmingly likely to favour the class interests of the super-wealthy. Since there is only so much money available – and less and less of that as the bankers’ incompetence comes to light – it is increasingly important that it is not simply handed over to rescue Irish capitalists, especially those who’ve displayed all the wit and intelligence of your average Merrill Lynch broker. Bailing out Anglo-Irish, AIB and the rest is simply money given to bankers and money denied to public transport, and health care or any sort of socially useful enterprise.

But of course, we know that the Irish state will continue to cut public services, it will attempt to drive down the working conditions of workers in both the public and private sectors. That the state’s ultimate purpose is to defend capitalism becomes clear in times of crises. Its choice of corporate advisers merely reflects this. In contrast, trade union input will consist of being lectured as to how cuts are in the national interest.

Will the advisors from Merrill Lynch and Arthur Cox propose tripling capital gains tax, from the absurdly low 20% it’s currently at? Will corporation tax be bumped up to 40%? Or will the focus be on draining wealth from working people, either in terms of income tax increases or in reduction of social spending?

The response of the government will illustrate clearly the strength of class forces in Irish society. And despite the awesome ineptitude of property developers and banks – from Anglo-Irish to Merrill Lynch - the state still feels confident enough to engage in a huge transfer of wealth from ordinary working people to the major capitalists.

Related WSM Links

US Finance and Global capitalism

Financial Weapons of Mass Destruction

WSM website


1. Merrill Lynch Press release Jan 2008

2. Wall St. Journal, JULY 18, 2008

1st quarter losses

2nd Quarter losses

3rd Quarter losses

4. Bank of America hit by more Merrill Lynch loses

5.Merrill bonuses

6. Merril Lynch and Eircom

7. Merrill to cough up on Enron

8. ABN-AMRO disaster

First published on