Shareholders of Bank of America Corp. and Merrill Lynch & Co. approved the banking giant's $16.5 billion takeover of the brokerage, ending Merrill's storied 94-year history as an independent company.

Several hundred people turned out at Merrill's New York headquarters for the vote, results of which weren't available. The same was true of Bank of America and its shareholders' vote.

The white-shoe investment bank, commonly referred to as "Mother Merrill," sold itself to Bank America in September. In the face of an impending collapse, Chief Executive John Thain quickly took action as Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. careened into bankruptcy court amid a cash crunch.

Bank of America shareholders will see their holdings diluted by some 25% as a result of the new shares to be issued to Merrill owners. The takeover, which carried an initial value of $50 billion before stocks of financial companies careened downward in recent months on mounting worries about the financial system, is slated to close by month's end. It is still awaiting regulatory approval.

But the deal will give Bank of America the world's largest wealth-management business with nearly 20,000 financial advisors and approximately $2.5 trillion in client assets. It will also receive Merrill's nearly 50% stake in asset manager BlackRock Inc.
Bank of America shares were down 4 cents to $14.30 while Merrill was up 1.7% at $12.11.

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