Thursday, April 23, 2009

BofA CEO Lewis: Excerpts from Testimony

by Calculated Risk on 4/23/2009 12:22:00 PM

UPDATE: Here is the letter from Cuomo to Congress (2.0 MB PDF). (Updated - linked to wrong letter initially)

It was widely rumored that there was some sort of backroom deal holding the BofA and Merrill deal together. From CNBC: BofA's Lewis Says He Was Told To Be Quiet on Merrill

Bank of America Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis told the New York attorney general he believed former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke wanted him to keep quiet about the worsening terms of the bank's acquisition of Merrill Lynch, according to testimony reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
Here are some excerpt of Lewis' testimony before New York's attorney general in February from the WSJ: 'It Wasn't Up to Me': Excerpts From Ken Lewis's Testimony
Mr. Lewis: I remember, for some reason, we wanted to follow up and see if any progress -- as I recall, we actually, had not agreed to call a MAC [material adverse condition] after the conversation that we had, and so I tried to get in touch with Hank, and, as I recall, I got a number that was somebody at the Treasury kind of guard-like thing. He had a number for Hank, and Hank was out, I think, on his bike, and he -- this is vague; I won't get the words exactly right -- and he said, "I'm going to be very blunt, we're very supportive of Bank of America and we want to be of help, but" -- I recall him saying "the government," but that may or may not be the case -- "does not feel it's in your best interest for you to call a MAC, and that we feel strongly," -- I can't recall if he said "we would remove the board and management if you called it" or if he said "we would do it if you intended to." I don't remember which one it was, before or after, and I said, "Hank, let's deescalate this for a while. Let me talk to our board." And the board's reaction was one of "That threat, okay, do it. That would be systemic risk."

Q: Did you ask for any agreement from them?

Mr. Lewis: There was a point after that that the board brought up the fact that we're relying on the words that obviously has some very prominent people and honorable people, but, boy, what if they don't come through? So I called Bernanke -- I don't know why I called him versus Hank -- and said, "Would you be willing to put something in writing?" And he said, "Let me think about it." As I recall, he didn't call me back, but Hank called me back. And Hank said two things: He said, "First, it would be so watered down, it wouldn't be as strong as what we were going to say to you verbally, and secondly this would be a disclosable event and we do not want a disclosable event."
This raises serious questions and will probably lead to shareholder lawsuits.