GLOBAL - Stan O'Neal, the American chief executive of Merrill Lynch, has finally stepped down and announced his 'retirement' last night, after the bank reported more than $2bn (€1.4bn) in losses during the third-quarter.

Rumours surfaced earlier this week suggesting the Merrill board had voted in favour of the 56-year old's departure, after he took responsibility last week for third-quarter losses.

Merrill's shares fell by almost 3% late yesterday, after the board of directors said it has appointed Alberto Cribiore, a member of the Merrill board since 2003, as interim replacement for O'Neal.

"Cibiore [...] also will chair a search committee that will identify and evaluate chief executive candidates from within and outside of the company," Merrill Lynch said in a news release published late last night.

The company added: "O'Neal and the board of directors both agreed that a change in leadership would best enable Merrill Lynch to move forward and focus on maintaining the strong operating performance of its businesses, which the company last week reported were performing well, apart from sub-prime mortgages and CDOs."

O'Neal's departure comes as Merrill Lynch now faces a $10bn class-action lawsuit - filed by law firm Coughlin, Stoia, Geller, Rudman and Robbins - which claims the company has issued false and misleading statements about its exposure to its sub-prime mortgage investments.

O'Neal, having served as chief executive since 2002, joined the company over two decades ago.

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