Merrill Lynch lost $9.8 billion in the fourth quarter, the brokerage announced this morning. As with many of the other lenders reeling from mortgage mess, this is the firm’s biggest quarterly loss since it was founded, which, in Merrill’s case, was 94 years ago. In a scary bit of synchronicity, new Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain used the exact same words Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit used the other day when his firm lost nearly $10 billion. The results are “clearly unacceptable,” they said. Yeah. Remember in It’s a Wonderful Life when Uncle Billy lost $8,000 and the Bailey Brothers Savings and Loan nearly went under? That was unacceptable. This is way worse. But on the bright side, Thain, who replaced recently deposed Stan O’Neal, has lately brought in some liquidity by selling a commercial-finance unit and almost $13 billion worth of capital investments overseas. “We’re very confident that we have the capital base now that we need to go forward in 2008,” he said in the conference call this morning. Well, he should be confident. After all, he is hotter than his predecessor, which, according to a recent study, bodes well for his success.