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Profile: Bear Stearns
Bear Stearns was a participant or observer in the following events:
To assist in the merger of Bear Stearns Companies, Inc. and JP Morgan Chase & Co., the US Federal Reserve authorizes the New York Fed to form Maiden Lane LLC, a Delaware limited liability company. Once established, Maiden Lane is extended credit by the Fed to acquire certain Bear Stearns assets. Maiden Lane funds the purchase of the Bear Stearns asset portfolio of mortgage related securities, residential and commercial mortgage loans, and associated hedges through senior and subordinate loans of approximately $29 billion from the New York Fed, and a much smaller amount, approximately $1.15 billion, from JP Morgan Chase. As of March 14, 2008, the asset portfolio has an estimated fair value of approximately $30 billion. [Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 3/2008]
The United States Federal Reserve has lent Wall Street’s largest investment bank billions of dollars, as the credit crisis threatens to spiral into a full-blown banking crisis. In developments currently rocking the world’s financial markets, the Fed and rival Wall Street bank, JP Morgan Chase, are funneling emergency loans to Bear Stearns, whose exposure to battered credit markets has led to a crisis of confidence in its ability to continue trading. In accelerating numbers, clients and trading partners are pulling business from Bear Stearns, after rumors of its solvency began circulating. During a last-minute conference call with investors, management at the investment bank warned that its emergency lending facility with the Federal Reserve has failed to staunch the bleeding. “We have been subject to a significant amount of rumor and innuendo in the past week,” says Bear Stearns chief executive Alan Schwartz. “We attempted to provide some facts but, in the market environment, the rumors intensified and a lot of people wanted to act to protect themselves first from the possibility that the rumors were true, and wait till later for the facts.” Bear Stearns appears most fragile of Wall Street’s major investment banks, since the July 2007 collapse of two internal hedge funds, providing initial clues about the scale of the unfolding credit crisis. Shares across the banking sector plunge as analysts fear that the Fed’s willingness to intervene suggests that Bear’s future is pivotal to the banking system, and that its failure precipitates losses that may cascade through its trading partners. Bear Stearns stocks are in freefall, closing down 47 percent. Pierre Ellis at New York’s Decision Economics said, “Clearly the Fed is addressing what they feel is a systemic risk very aggressively.” [Belfast Telegraph, 3/15/2008]
Lehman Brothers, the fourth largest investment bank in the US, files for liquidation after huge losses in the mortgage market, a crippling loss of investor confidence, and its inability to find a buyer. Lehman’s collapse began as the mortgage market crisis unfolded in summer 2007, when its stock began a steady fall from a peak of $82 a share. 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 its crisis deepened in 2007 and early 2008, the investment bank defied expectations more than once, as it had many times before, such as in 1998, when it teetered after a worldwide currency crisis, only to strongly rebound. Lehman managed to avoid the fate of fellow investment bank Bear Stearns, which was bought by JP Morgan Chase at a bargain basement price under the threat of bankruptcy in March 2008 (see March 15, 2008). By summer, however, Lehman’s roller-coaster ride began to have more downs than ups. A series of write-offs accompanied new offerings to seek capital to bolster its finances. [New York Times, 9/16/2008]
Henry Paulson, the former secretary of the treasury, explains how the recession and market destruction came about on his watch. Part of his problem was his admitted lack of knowledge about regulation and regulatory authorities. “I easily could imagine and expected there to be financial turmoil,” he says. “But the extent of it, okay, I was naive in terms of—I knew a lot about regulation but not nearly as much as I needed to know, and I knew very little about regulatory powers and authorities. I just had not gone into it in that kind of detail. This’ll be the longest we’ve gone in recent history without there being turmoil, and given all the innovation in the private pools of capital and the over-the-counter derivatives and the excesses around the world, we figured that when there was turmoil, and these things were tested for the first time by stress, it would be more significant than anything else. I said at the time, I have a concern that every rally we’re going to have in the financial markets will be a false rally until we break the back of the price correction in real estate. And these things are never over until you have a couple of institutions go that surprise everyone. Bear Stearns can hardly be a shock (see March 15, 2008). But having said that, it’s one thing to see it intellectually and it’s another to see where we are.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
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