Friday, September 26, 2008

The Lehman Bankruptcy , The New York Times.

The Lehman Bankruptcy
The New York Times reports on the collapse of the investment bank.

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 rollercoaster ride started to have more downs than ups. A series of writeoffs was accompanied by new offerings to seek capital to bolster its finances.