Lehman Brothers Journey

Lehman Brothers was founded in 1850 by two cotton brokers in Montgomery, Ala. The firm moved to New York City after the Civil War and grew into one of Wall Street’s investment giants, despite period brushes with death. On Sept. 14, 2008, the investment bank announced that it would file for liquidation after huge losses in the mortgage market and a loss of investor confidence crippled it and it was unable to find a buyer.

Lehman’s slow collapse began as the mortgage market crisis unfolded in the summer of 2007, when its stock began a steady fall from a peak of $82 a share. The fears were based on the fact that the firm was a major player in the market for subprime and prime mortgages, and that as the smallest of the major Wall Street firms, it faced a larger risk that large losses could be fatal.

As the crisis deepened in 2007 and early 2008, the storied investment bank defied expectations more than once, just it had many times before, as in 1998, when it seemed to teeter after a worldwide currency crisis, only to rebound strongly.

Lehman managed to avoid the fate of Bear Stearns, the other of Wall Street’s small fry, which was bought by JP Morgan Chase at a bargain basement price under the threat of bankruptcy. Lehman and Bear Stearns had a number of similarities. Both had relatively small balance sheets, they were heavily dependent on the mortgage market, and they relied heavily on the “repo” or repurchase market, most often used as a short-term financing tool.

But by the summer of 2008 the roller coaster ride started to have more downs than ups. A series of write offs was accompanied by new offerings to seek capital to bolster its finances.

Lehman also fought a running battle with short sellers. The company accused them of spreading rumors to drive down the stock’s price; Lehman’s critics responded by questioning whether the firm had come clean about the true size of its losses. As time passed and losses mounted, an increasing number of investors sided with the critics.

On June 9, 2008, Lehman announced a second-quarter loss of $2.8 billion, far higher than analysts had expected. The company said it would seek to raise $6 billion in fresh capital from investors. But those efforts faltered, and the situation grew more dire after the government on Sept. 8 announced a takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Lehman’s stock plunged as the markets wondered whether the move to save those mortgage giants made it less likely that Lehman might be bailed out.

On Sept. 10, the investment bank said that it would spin off the majority of its remaining commercial real estate holdings into a new public company. And it confirmed plans to sell a majority of its investment management division in a move that it expects to generate $3 billion. It also announced its latest round of bad news — an expected loss of $3.9 billion, or $5.92 a share, in the third quarter after $5.6 billion in write-downs.
By the weekend of Sept. 13-14, it was clear that it was do or die for Lehman. The Treasury had made clear that no bailout would be forthcoming. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Federal Reserve officials did encourage other financial institutions to buy Lehman, but by the end of the weekend the two main suitors, Barclay’s and Bank of American, had both said no. Lehman had reached the end of the line.

Taken from the source NYTimes.com

To read more news and recent information about financial condition in America, NYTimes must be in your hand.

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