Why Lehman Bros went bust; what it means for you
What is (or was) Lehman Brothers?
America's fourth-largest investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc has filed the biggest bankruptcy petition known to mankind.
The 158-year-old firm was founded by brothers Henry, Emanuel and Mayer Lehman, Jewish immigrants to the US from Germany, in 1850. Henry set up a general store in Alabama in 1844 and was later joined by his brothers. In 1850 they set up the merchant bank in New York after having made money in railway bonds. So what went wrong?
Image: The headquarters of the investment bank Lehman Brothers in Manhattan in New York C
Lehman Bros, which till June 2008 had not reported a quarterly loss even once, had earlier survived many an economic crises, like railroad bankruptcies of the 1800s, the Great Depression in the 1930s, and the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management in the 1990s.
Thus the collapse of the giant investment bank came as a major shock for the entire world markets that plunged after Lehman filed a Chapter 11 petition with US Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan.
The $613 billion (some estimates put the size at $639 billion) bankruptcy thus throws up the question: why did the Wall Street giant go bust? Here's why. . .
Image: The Wall Street bull. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images
Why did Lehman Brothers go bankrupt?
The giant investment bank succumbed to the sub-prime mortgage crisis that has rocked the United States and the global economy. Lehman was strangled by a massive credit crisis and fast plummeting real estate prices.
The gargantuan $60 billion loss in bad real estate loans forced the bank to file for bankruptcy.
However, the fall of the 158-year-year institution that started cotton trade in US before the American Civil War and financed the railroad that built a nation, got hit by a large dose of bad luck, pride, arrogance and greed. Primarily, the pride of its chief executive office Richard Fuld.
But there were more reason. Check out what they were. . .
Image: Pedestrian and vehicular traffic pass the headquarters building of Lehman Brothers. Photograph: Michael
Lehman's collapse was also triggered by the refusal of other banks to do business with it because of its complex and, at times, opaque ways of trading. Housing loans made by the bank to people with little support made these loans very risky, and when interest rates rose, these borrowers could no more repay Lehman. This led to huge losses, the extent of which is not yet clear.
Thus other banks stopped trading with Lehman. This led to it losing almost all business and triggered its fall.
The final straw for Lehman was the fact that both Barclays Plc of the United Kingdom and Bank of America Corp pulled out of takeover talks. BofA bought out Merrill Lynch for $50 billion.
However, Barclays has now said that it is in discussions with Lehman Brothers about buying certain assets of the stricken US investment bank.
"Barclays confirms that it is discussing with Lehman Brothers the possible acquisition of certain Lehman Brothers assets on terms that would be attractive to Barclay's shareholders," Britain's third largest bank said in a statement.
Image: A Wall Street sign is seen in front of the New York Stock Exchange. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images
When other banks do not want to buy Lehman, why is Barclays interested?
Barclays wanted to buy Lehman out at a discount, so to speak. But when Lehman CEO Fuld decided that his bank was worth much more than what Barclays had apparently offered, Barclays stepped back.
Now that Lehman has filed for bankruptcy, its assets are available fairly cheap. However, the biggest problem is to take on Lehman's enormous liabilities.
Image: A Barclays Bank branch signboard pictured in North London, and an ABN Amro signboard below. Photograph: Rick Nederstigt/AFP/ Getty
How far is the CEO of the company responsible for Lehman's fall?
Wall Street analysts believe that it was the 'hubris' of Richard Fuld, the 62-year-old CEO of Lehman, who did not take the telltale signs of impending doom very seriously. Fuld, nicknamed The Gorilla for his foul temper, intimidating presence and tough talk, rejected many bids to save Lehman because he thought that the sinking giant was much bigger than Wall Street was giving it credit for, and wanted to get more price for the sale of the company.
Analysts say if the bank was sold just a week before it went kaput, it could have been saved the ignominy of a bankruptcy, but Fuld was far too adamant to see reason. Result: the end of a 158-year-old financial giant.
Image: Richard Fuld, CEO, Lehman Brothers. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Could the United States government helped, like it helped Bear Stearns in May this year, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac earlier this month?
The US government could have helped, but US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said that it would not use up any more taxpayer dollars to bail out Lehman Brothers as it would lead to investment banks getting away with their gambling ways. Paulson had bailed out Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Bear Stearns, saying that if the government had not done so, the US housing loan market would have collapsed leading to gigantic losses for hundreds of banks all over the globe that have invested in US property.
Paulson, however, believes that a brokerage major like Lehman, which does not have a direct connection with ordinary people who have taken on home loans, need not be bailed out as it would not cause any systemic damage to the US economy.
Image: US Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Will everyone in Lehman lose their jobs?
The bankruptcy administrators, PricewaterhouseCoop ers, feels that as Lehman's operations were essentially centralized at New York, the folding up of the investment banker in the US will have a telling impact on all its operations globally.
Over 5,000 employees in the UK have already lost their jobs, while about 20,000 in the US might as well forget going back to their work stations. About 2,500 Lehman employees in India too face the axe.
Will the whole bank be liquidated?
Unlikely, at least for now. The US Chapter 11 that deals with bankruptcy says that PwC, the administrators, can go about taking its time to find good offers and buyers for Lehman's 'least affected businesses.'
The entire exercise can take months before all of Lehman's assets are sold, given the complexities linked to the bankruptcy.
Image: Pedestrians walk by the New York Stock Exchange in New York City. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
What about the Bank of America and Merrill Lynch deal?
Merrill Lynch's buy out by Bank of America is also a shocking development. ML, saw the writing on the wall once it guessed that Lehman was going bust, and decided to sell out before it actually has to file a bankruptcy petition..
What about the insurance giant AIG?
The world's largest insurer, American International Group, has been downgraded by credit rating agencies and is racing against time to find a multi billion dollar infusion to stay afloat. US Federal Reserve officials and two leading banks, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, were negotiating to put together $75 billion package to save the insurance giant to stave off crisis.
AIG has sought $40 billion in bridge loan to stave off the crisis. But the Fed rebuffed the request. AIG's ills came to fore, when three leading credit rating agencies - Standard and Poor's Moody's and Fitch - lowered the company's credit scores.
Image: The American International Building, world headquarters of American International Group, in New York City.
Photograph: Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Who could be the next to fall?
Some Wall Street analysts, reports The Guardian, name Washington Mutual as the next financial major to 'find itself in serious trouble.'
However, the even bigger worry is whether the world's largest securities firms, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, would be able to survive this brutal financial crisis. But many say that these two gaints will not melt down as they have 'done a better job of spreading their bets across world markets and are also more diversified, less leveraged and have managed such risks much better.'
Image: A Morgan Stanley sign is seen at their world headquarters in New York City. Photograph: Stephen Chernin/Getty
What do Indian markets fear?
The fall of two global financial behemoths -- Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch -- is expected to dent India Inc's ability to raise resources via the equity route.
Experts feel that such events significantly increase the risk perception, which in turn will put all future investments by institutional investors such as pension or endowment funds, on the back burner.
While the public issue market has already dried up, the private equity funds are also becoming conservative in terms of pricing. This is resulting in either inordinate delays in concluding deals or transactions being called off.
There are many instances of private equity fund managers refusing to go ahead with deals after signing the term sheet. Sources said that a leading fund conducted due diligence on two companies in the last fortnight but did not close either deal primarily because of the developments in the US, their home country.
The crisis faced by Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers is expected to have a cascading effect on PE firms too.
Image: A man walks out of Merrill Lynch's headquarters in New York. Photograph: Nicholas Roberts/AFP/ Getty Images
Will it hit the Indian growth story?
The ongoing financial sector crisis in the United States and its repercussions on developed markets worldwide will result in lower capital inflows into emerging markets like India, economists and government officials said today.
At the same time, they called for the government to make it easier for Indian companies to borrow overseas by easing the restrictions that have been imposed in the past to reduce excessive liquidity in the system and control inflation.
This will, in turn, lead to a slowing in investment growth in the months ahead. As lending gets tighter and investment flows dry, corporate India will find it more difficult to raise both equity and debt.
Image: The entrance to the Bombay Stock Exchange. Photograph: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/ Getty Images
Technology firms are shivering
Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy filing may well prove to be the last straw for Indian IT firms, which were expecting the second half of FY09 to be better. As a result of the US financial market crisis, analysts do not expect Indian IT firms to sign any significant contracts in the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) space in the months to come.
While IT firms do not disclose client-specific details, it's estimated that Lehman Brothers has outsourced deals amounting to anywhere between Rs 550 crore and Rs 700 crore (annually) to numerous IT firms, including majors like Tata Consultancy Services, Satyam Computer Services and Wipro. Lehman Brothers, say sources, works with 14 services providers in India - Wipro and TCS being the largest. It also has investments in a few IT firms. It's not clear if these holdings will be liquidated to raise funds.
Moreover, the sources add that Lehman Brothers' unit in India has issued termination letters to a majority of its 2,500 employees.
Image: A Indian stock trader reacts during intra-day trade at a brokerage house in Mumbai. Photograph: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/ Getty Images
What kind of investment does Lehman have in India?
Lehman does not have direct large holding in the Indian stock markets. These holdings are estimated at around $200 million, including Participatory Notes. This figure is not enough to cripple the Indian stock markets.
But Lehman has exposure to the Indian stock market through special purpose vehicles. This exposure to real estate stocks is said to be of about $1.5 billion, enough to shake up the markets.
Image: Equity traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York. Photograph: Nicholas Roberts/AFP/ Getty Images
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