In a day of toppling dominoes on Wall Street, Bank of America agreed to buy Merrill Lynch for $44 billion, or $29 a share—about two-thirds of what it was worth a year ago and 50% of its highest value in 2007, the Wall Street Journal reports. The deal, struck over 2 days of intense negotiations, reconfigures the US banking world by making the nation's biggest bank even more powerful.
Led by CEO Kenneth Lewis, Bank of America has already snapped up dozens of firms, including crippled mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp. The addition of Merrill Lynch puts BofA in charge of America's biggest team of stockbrokers, and gives it a hand in nearly every area of the nation's financial world. "Why would Bank of America do this?" one analyst asked. "You are master of the universe, basically."