Merrill sets aside $2bn for overhaul

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Merrill Lynch underlined the severity of its cost-cutting programme on Wednesday when it revealed a $2.2bn(€2.46bn) fourth-quarter charge to pay for a restructuring of the business and 15,000 job losses last year.

The world's biggest stock broker also confirmed the closure of 20 of its 28 retail branches in Japan, where around 1,200 of its 1,700 sales staff are expected to be made redundant after failing to make satisfactory inroads into a difficult market.

Merrill, like its rivals, endured a tough 2001 when mergers and acquisitions dried up, and equity markets faltered as the September 11 terrorist attacks exacerbated global economic slowdown.

The redundancies in Japan are part of a cull of 15,000, or 21%, of Merrill's 72,000 workers since the start of last year as new president Stan O'Neal wrestles to cut costs. Some 9,000 of those were lost in the last quarter, largely from American, Asian and Australian operations.