Wachovia

Question: We have inherited a substantial amount of stock's from Wachovia, (value around $50,000). Our question is should we keep these stocks knowing how unstable the market is, or, should we liquidate the stocks and pay off our credit card debt. Our current balance is approximately $25,000. So far we have spent around $35,000 of this inheritance from other sources. Thanks, Bev & Mike, Augusta, KS

Answer: I can't say if it makes more sense for you to hold or sell the stock. There are a lot of factors that go into a decision like that, from how patient you can be with the stock to how pressing is the financial needs you currently face. However, in the current environment (actually in any economic scenario) getting rid of credit card debt and staying out of credit card debt is a good thing.

That said, I want to highlight a critical aspect of the answer: Do you want to be a shareholder in Wells Fargo over the long haul? That's what you shortly will be since on Dec. 23rd the shareholders of Wells and Wachovia gave the thumbs up to a previously negotiated merger agreement.

The merger creates one of the country's largest banks with over $1.42 trillion in assets and some $800 million in deposits. The merger is part of a wave of consolidation sweeping the banking industry in response to the ongoing financial crisis. Vulnerable and weak institutions (like Wachovia) are seeking shelter by hooking up with sound and strong banks (such as Wells Fargo). San Francisco-based Wells struck the government brokered deal for Charlotte-based Wachovia back in October after a brief but bitter battle for control with Citigroup.

It's not surprising that the value of the merger has fallen since last October. It was originally estimated as a $15-plus billion deal, or around $7 a share. (Wachovia shareholders will receive 0.1991 shares of Wells Fargo common stock for each share of Wachovia they hold. ) But as I am writing this, Wachovia's stock is down to $5.43 a share, putting the value of the merger at a bit under $12 billion.

Again, if you hold on to the stock your making a bet on the long-term future of Wells Fargo, and that it will succeed over the next several years in integrating the operations of the two companies. The other factor is that you're betting you will earn a higher return on the equity than the "return" you would get on your money by paying off the credit card debt.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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