Merrill Lynch & Co Inc needs a greater presence in China, including a brokerage business, because the world's fourth-largest economy is critical for the US investment bank's growth, Chief Executive John Thain said on Thursday.
Thain told reporters during a visit to Beijing that his bank also had to expand its wealth management and investment banking business in China.
"We want to bring our full range of businesses into the domestic market, and one of those is a brokerage business," Thain said.
"One of the opportunities for us to explore is obtaining a brokerage licence," he added.
However, he did not say whether his bank was in any talks with local brokerages for a possible joint venture.
Thain reiterated that Merrill has enough capital and would not need to tap the equity market for more in the foreseeable future.
To shore up its balance sheet, Merrill has raised about $12.8 billion in recent months, much of it from Asian investors.
Thain did not comment on reports that Merrill would make further writedowns in the first quarter because of the still-unfolding credit crunch or that it would post another loss in the first quarter.
The bank will announce its results next week.
Merrill has so far written down $24 billion worth of investments related to the troubled US mortgage market, which pushed the bank to a loss of more than $8 billion in 2007.
Wachovia Capital Markets said this week it expects Merrill to post a first-quarter loss and slashed its 2008 earnings estimate for the investment bank to 47 cents a share from $4.43.
The International Monetary Fund said this week that turmoil in credit markets could spread with total losses approaching $945 billion.
Deterioration in credit has moved across the credit spectrum to prime residential and commercial mortgage markets, and to corporate credit markets, the IMF said.
Thain said he has had fruitful talks with a mix of government and regulatory officials as well as clients while in Beijing, but he would not elaborate. (Reuters)
Merrill exploring brokerage in China