Lehman Brothers Timeline
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. 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 in March 2008. But by summer of 2008 the rollercoaster 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 a 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 expected to generate $3 billion. It also announced 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. Federal officials encouraged other institutions to buy Lehman, but by the end of the weekend the two main suitors, Barclays and Bank of America, had both said no.
Lehman filed for bankruptcy Sept. 15. One day later, Barclays said it would buy Lehman's United States capital markets division for $1.75 billion, a bargain price. Nomura Holdings of Japan agreed to buy many of Lehman's assets in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Lehman also said it would sell much of its money management business, including its prized Neuberger Berman asset management unit, to Bain Capital and Hellman & Friedman for $2.15 billion.
Lehman's demise set off tremors throughout the financial system. The uncertainty surrounding its transactions with banks and hedge funds exacerbated a crisis of confidence. That contributed to credit markets freezing, forcing governments around the globe to take steps to try to calm panicked markets.
On Oct. 5, Richard S. Fuld Jr., Lehman's chief executive, testified before a Congressional panel that while he took full responsibility for the debacle, he believed all his decisions "were both prudent and appropriate" given the information at the time.
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