U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
Litigation Release No. 21377 / January 12, 2010
Securities and Exchange Commission v. Bank of America Corporation, Civil Action No. 10-0215 (S.D.N.Y.)
SEC CHARGES BANK OF AMERICA FOR FAILING TO DISCLOSE EXTRAORDINARY LOSSES AT MERRILL LYNCH PRIOR TO MERGER
The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Bank of America with violating the federal proxy rules by failing to disclose extraordinary financial losses at Merrill Lynch prior to a shareholder vote to approve a merger between the two companies.
The SEC’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges that Bank of America learned prior to the Dec. 5, 2008, shareholder vote that Merrill Lynch had incurred a net loss of $4.5 billion in October 2008 and estimated billions of dollars of additional losses in November. Bank of America erroneously and unreasonably concluded that no disclosure concerning these extraordinary losses was required as shareholders were called upon to vote on the proposed merger with Merrill Lynch. The lack of any disclosure about the losses deprived shareholders of up-to-date information that was essential to their ability fairly to evaluate whether to approve the merger on the terms presented to them. Bank of America’s failure to disclose this information violated its undertaking to update shareholders concerning fundamental changes to previously disclosed information, and rendered its prior disclosures materially false and misleading.
Last August, the Commission filed a separate action charging Bank of America with misleading investors about billions of dollars in bonuses that were being paid to Merrill executives. Today’s filing follows yesterday’s ruling by the Honorable Jed S. Rakoff that the SEC’s proposed charges relating to the Merrill losses should be filed separately rather than being consolidated with the current complaint challenging the bonus disclosure. That case is currently set for trial to begin on March 1, 2010 before Judge Rakoff.
According to the SEC’s complaint filed today, the actual and estimated losses at Merrill Lynch for the fourth quarter of 2008 together represented approximately one-third of the value of the merger at the time of the shareholder vote and more than 60 percent of the aggregate losses that the firm sustained in the preceding three quarters combined. The SEC’s complaint further alleges that Merrill’s deteriorating performance represented a fundamental change to the financial information that Bank of America provided shareholders in the proxy statement used to solicit votes for approval of the merger. In connection with the merger, Bank of America also publicly filed a registration statement in which it represented that it would update shareholders about any fundamental changes in the information previously disclosed.
The SEC’s complaint charges Bank of America with violating Section 14(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and SEC Rule 14a-9 by failing to make any disclosure to its shareholders of the losses that Merrill Lynch incurred in the two-month period leading to the Dec. 5, 2008 shareholder vote.
The SEC acknowledges the assistance of the U.S. Attorney's Offices for the Southern District of New York and Western District of North Carolina, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Office of The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
See Also: SEC Complaint