By way of the recent Sears Credit Corp. retail card deal, Merrill Lynch became the latest bank to launch an asset-backed deal over the web - or at least partially - said Rob Little, a managing director in the ABS group at Merrill.

"I think it went pretty well," Little said. "I think at this point, Internet distribution is still working in complement with the traditional syndicate process. But I think it was important for Sears to be identified with an Internet transaction."

The deal, which was upsized 70% to $850 million from $500 million, priced earlier this month, and was Sears' first public deal this year.

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, via its credit card affiliate Discover Card, was the first to bring an ABS deal over the net back in January. Since then Morgan Stanley's web platform has been available for all its securitized products, including the PNC-CMAC 2000-C1 commercial mortgage backed securities deal that priced a few weeks back.

"We offer the Internet whether we're co-manager or lead manager on a deal," said Dennis Scurletis, a managing director at Morgan Stanley. "Either way, we believe it enhances our role."

As did Merrill's Little, Scurletis emphasized that the use of the Internet in a transaction is complementary to the traditional network.

"It's not replacing sales people," Scurletis said. "I really think that that's a frequent misinterpretation. It's enhancing our ability to provide client service, whether it's information or distribution."

One hopeful effect of Internet distribution has been that it will allow smaller banks and brokerages to more readily participate in the trading.

"I think we'll see that down the road, but it's still a little early," Little said. "To be honest, the system probably got a little in front of itself. And once somebody on Wall Street does it, everybody does it, for [public relations] purposes, and even ego purposes. But I think it's starting to go in the right direction."

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