GLOBAL – Merrill Lynch has declined to comment on a story in the New York Times saying it is “exploring the possibility” of selling a large stake in its investment management business.

The paper cited bankers familiar with the discussions as saying Merrill has had talks with Baltimore-based asset manager Legg Mason, which it described as “exploratory”.

Neither Merrill Lynch Investment Managers spokesman Nigel Webb nor Legg Mason spokeswoman Alison Mackley would comment on the report.

The paper also quoted Robert Doll, the president of Merrill's investment management arm, as acknowledging in a Deutsche Bank research report that a partial sale of the fund unit would ease regulatory conflicts.

Merrill’s investment management arm has 513 billion dollars in assets under management, with seven billion dollars in net inflows in the first quarter. In the first quarter, Merrill's asset management division earned 111 million dollars up from 39 million dollars a year before.