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Merrill Lynch Gives A Lesson In How To Talk To The MarketDiscussion Of Write-Downs Much Better Than Citigroup

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People used to talk about "first mover advantage" but sometimes going second can have a distinct advantage. CItigroup's conference call left analysts and investors concerned that the bank could not confidently discuss its write-downs, and worried that more write-downs for asset backed securities may yet loom in the bank's future. Merrill Lynch's team has done a much better job at assuring those listening into its call that it has a firm grasp on its credit market exposure.
Perhaps the first correction from Citi's approach is that where Pandit sat out most of the question and answer session, Merrill's Thain stayed involved in the call the entire time. When UBS's Glenn Schorr asked about whether write-downs on illiquid assets were deep enough that the firm could now transfer them at par value--basically, whether they had marked the assets to a market-clearing price--Thain jumped in and confidently announced that he was confident the assets were saleable as now valued.
The next correction was demonstrating a firm understanding of the risks faced by the firm. Where Citi CFO Gary "the Critter" Crittenden was forced to admit he had a weak understanding of many of the risks involved with asset backed securities, Merrill chief financial officer Nelson Chai and Thain both began discussing how Merrill's $23 billion in short hedges reduced its risk in the CDO hedges.
It's a marked contrast in how Citi handled its earnings call. Thain displayed a hands-on style, and obviously had drilled rather deeply into his firm's numbers. The ghost of O'Neal has been exorcised.