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First Franklin Winding Down

CNBC reports insiders told parent getting rid of unit

February 28, 2008

By staff

Subprime lender First Franklin Financial Corp. will wind down operations, insiders are saying.

Parent Merrill Lynch is planning on winding down the San Jose, Calif.-based company, CNBC reported. The news channel said First Franklin insiders are being told that Merrill is getting rid of the business.

CNBC noted that about 1,000 layoffs have occurred at First Franklin over the past couple months, and around 400 to 500 people still remain. An estimated six branch offices remain at the unit.

Merrill acquired First Franklin from National City Corp. for $1.3 billion on Dec. 30, 2006 -- just as the mortgage meltdown began. Merrill had a net increase of 4,100 in full-time staff mainly due to First Franklin's acquisition.

In March 2007, First Franklin said it was consolidating some branch operational functions and adjusting staff levels by increasing in some areas, including wholesale account executives, and decreasing in others. The company laid off an unspecified number of workers during September -- though it kept all of its wholesale account executives.

Merrill, which reported more than 64,000 full-time employees on Dec. 31, is expected to begin laying off its own operations employees in March, then move on to First Franklin, CNBC reported.

A small First Franklin servicing operation is expected to remain in place to handle the mortgage portfolio as it runs down, CNBC noted.

New York-based Merrill reported a $9.8 billion fourth quarter loss. The loss was the result of an $11.5 billion writedown related to U.S. collateralized debt obligations and subprime residential mortgages aside from its U.S. bank-related investment securities portfolio.

The massive loss led to the ouster of former chairman and chief executive officer Stan O'Neal in October.

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