Merrill Lynch ( MER), fresh off a restructuring jag in which it laid off thousands and streamlined its American operations, filed a $15 billion mixed shelf registration Friday. The company plans to use any proceeds for general purposes, which can mean anything from acquiring a rival to funding its pension plan. And while $15 billion would be enough to help Merrill buy something, analysts say it's more likely raising the money to keep its business lines competitive with rivals like J.P. Morgan Chase ( JPM) and Bank of America ( BAC). "You've got to ask yourself, Merrill -- what does Merrill need?" said Brad Hintz, who covers the stock for Bernstein. "They've got a world-class investment banking operation. They've got a strong asset management operation. They're a dominant player in retail. Not certain what needs to be added.
Company CEO E. Stan O'Neal is fixing what he's got rather than buying anything -- they're getting smaller, not larger." Analysts think Merrill will use the money to keep up with the Joneses instead of buying them out. The general trend in the financial services industry is toward broader product lines that meet a wide variety of consumer needs. And in a recent conference call touting its performance, rival J.P. Morgan told investors that the future lay in precisely this kind of integration. "Integrated is important because it is quite clear in the marketplace that clients want integrated solutions," said Marc Shapiro, J.P. Morgan's vice chairman of finance and risk management. "It is not an accident that over any recent period of time, those companies -- those financial services companies that offer integrated solutions -- are gaining market share relative to narrower competitors." And indeed, back when it announced earnings , J.P. Morgan trumpeted the fact that its merger with Chase had finally paid off, showing some of its long-rumored growth potential. The brokerage announced a 12% year-over year revenue increase for the quarter, with big gains coming from net interest income, fees from bond and Treasury trading, securities gains and retail loans.