Hiring Freeze at Merrill Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Merrill Lynch & Co Inc, (MER.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) reeling from billions of dollars of writedowns, has frozen hiring until year end, according to a memo sent to employees.

The company said it will not replace employees that have left, nor will it hire for positions that were previously budgeted for. The freeze does not apply to retail brokers, who numbered 16,690 at the end of the second quarter.

Merrill Lynch cut 4,200 jobs in the first half of the year, and had a total of 60,000 employees at the end of June, excluding brokers.

Merrill Lynch has recorded more than $45 billion of writedowns since the credit crunch began last year, but Chief Executive John Thain said earlier this month that the company should return to profitability soon.

According to the firm-wide memo sent out on Wednesday, requests for exceptions to the hiring freeze must be sent in writing to the management committee.

Merrill Lynch does most of its hiring in the first and second quarters, the memo said. Merrill is looking at its 2009 growth plans to determine where its hiring priorities should be focused then.

So far Thain's hiring priorities for this year appear to have focused on senior-level talent.

Earlier this month, Thomas Montag began working at the firm as head of sales and trading. Merrill granted him stock and options valued at about $40 million, on top of a nearly $40 million bonus it previously agreed to pay him.

Wall Street is broadly scaling back. The sector announced more than 100,000 job cuts through the end of July, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Merrill Lynch spokeswoman Jessica Oppenheim confirmed the contents of the memo.

(Reporting by Dan Wilchins; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)