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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day -- You're ruined!

The devastating developments in the U.S. financial markets are no longer keeping bankers' hours. It's just been announced that Bear Stearns is going to be bought out at a mere pennies on the dollar:

Bear Stearns, pushed to the brink of bankruptcy by what amounted to a run on the bank, agreed late Sunday to sell itself to JPMorgan Chase for a mere $2 a share, narrowly averting a collapse that threatened to cascade through the financial system.

The price represents a startling 93 percent discount to Bear Stearns’ closing stock price on Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.

Bernanke is so scared by the whole thing that the Fed just cut interest rates another quarter-point, in an emergency move, on a Sunday. All to keep the stock markets from completely collapsing in the morning, I suppose.

Here we have the culmination of 25 years of Reagan deregulation, compounded by the ignorance of the Bush family. From Treasury Secretary Paulson: "Last Friday, I said that market participants are addressing challenges and I am pleased with recent developments." Swell.

You wanted it, America -- now lie back and enjoy it.

UPDATE, 9:22 p.m.: What's that? Does that sound like a tsunami siren to you?

Comments (34)

The fifth largest investment bank in the US is worth about $236 million.

That would build a usable basketball arena for the U of O or buy a nice light rail feasibility study.

Or perhaps a trolley from the Pearl to the Big Pipe.

Vera blew more money than that in a single lunch with Homer Williams.

I'm sort of happy to see the likes of Bear Stearns finally get their comeuppance. If only the govt would step out of the way, and stop pretending they can do something to prevent the inevitable implosion. Our economy needs a major bloodletting before it can be set aright again. This too will pass.

Smart guys like Bear Stearns are the geniuses who talk dum-dums like Portland City Hall into getting in way over their heads with debt, too. Can't wait to see where all that shakes out. I hope it kills the rest of the freakin' streetcars, at least.

Another quote from the same office, different time: "There is nothing in the situation to be disturbed about."

- Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, Feb 1930

Tomorrow will be an interesting day for stocks and bonds. DJIA futures are currently 258 points lower, while QQQQ futures are 40 points lower.

Asian markets are currently 5%-6% lower.

Here's my question for the economists: if the Fed has pulled out all the stops, and will do whatever it takes to maintain liquidity, doesn't the risk of default/insolvency go down?

Yeah, until the U.S. dollar becomes the Brazilian cruzeiro. And we're getting close.

Yeah, until the U.S. dollar becomes the Mexican Basura.

RUETERS: Under the deal, the Federal Reserve will provide special financing and has agreed to fund up to $30 billion of Bear Stearns' less liquid assets.

How's it feel to get the shaft, average American? Socialism for the rich.

Let Bear Stearns fail! The FDIC is right now forecasting 150-200 banks to fail in 2008. In fact, the FDIC is rehiring retired or former bank examiners in preparation for this debacle. Do you think something like Bank of Iowa City is going to get this kind of sweetheart deal? This is all the reason you need to want to abolish the Federal Reserve. When push comes to shove, it's a private bank that has been given the Constitutional power of the U.S. Treasury and Congress to protect the ruling class.

If Bear went down, there were four or five more that would have followed. They'll be in for their own handouts in a week or two, anyway.

The worst part is, McCain will still promise to cut taxes, and he'll still win.

Teach your children Chinese, and get them each a passport.

That's right recessions never occurred before Reagan. And yes one-term Carter was a real prize (inflation plus 10 percent and unemployment approaching 10% in '79/80 as I recall in the U.S and Oregon). Don't also let your selective memory forget the stock market began its turn of the century bear market in the Spring of 2000 when Bill Clinton was still pres and the next president was still uncertain.

Reagan deregulated everything, and now it's imploding.

FDR was a genius. Reagan was a crazy old coot. And the next year or two is going to make that painfully clear, even to stubborn people like yourself.

Yikes. A Sunday night fire sale! My we are a generous people. Wonder if Bushie will utter the "R" word now?

What's that? Does that sound like a tsunami siren to you?

I keep wondering when we're going to see a one-day four-figure drop. This may be the week. Hang on to your hats.

Bear Stearns Co was sold for $236 million. The CEO, Alan Schwartz, earned 35 million last year.

Here is his recent trading activity:

Sell 12/21/07 6.0 million
Sell 03/21/07 250,000
Sell 12/12/06 3.5 million

He recently gave a few bucks to Giuliani, Obama, and Trent Lott.

The system is fundamentally broken, but don't expect anyone in the White House to fix it for another decade or so.

I am curious as to why Benrnanke decided to do everything but address the sub-prime accounts. He's dropped int rates (which banks aren't passing thru to consumer) which dings the dollar.

Since the panic is mostly just people do not know (good or bad) how much of a mess the sub-prime market is, maybe he could focus on getting some of these guys to value (or mark-to-market) their losses.

THen I guess if need be, he could buy those debts with his special fund.

As far as how we got here, I think everyone shares some blame which is why Obama/Clinton/McCain really won't make a diff. They'd all lobby heavily to make sure everyone could buy a house whether they could afford it or not and we'd be here anyways.

Of course Bush never vetoing a spending bill in eight years wasnt much help either. CoP then gives away our kids' tax payments to build SIM city projects, so I understand everyone's depression. The bankers (like pushers) just give them the instruments to make it happen when they have no clue on what they are getting into (or don't care since I am sure Sam thinks if he gives enough stuff away and wears bow tie he'll be in Earl's seat soon enough.)

The equity markets are well above their lows today, which means panic hasn't taken hold.

One day is not a trend, but we could have been down 5% today.

They're waiting for the results of the FRB meeting tomorrow. Another 0.5% - 1% drop is expected.

FDR was a genius. Reagan was a crazy old coot. And the next year or two is going to make that painfully clear


I bought 50 shares of Bear Stearns at about $90 a share after it had dropped from $170 and after doing a fair amount of due diligence. I figured most of the bad news had come out about it, but I was terribly wrong.

At least two things bother me about this experience. First, there was no way I could fully assess Bear's true financial condition before I purchased the shares. If management is intent on hiding important information, they will be able to do so, and the so-called external auditors will go along with it. Second, I think shareholders possibly would have received far more than $2 a share if the damned Federal Reserve had not interfered. Bear's price dropped from about $75 to $2 in less than 2 trading days, even though the company's book value was about $70. Selling Bear for only $2 a share in a hastily arranged marriage without a shareholder vote doesn't sound right to me at all.

I didn't have much faith in the financial system before this experience; now I have no faith at all. I'm going to join Jack in buying gold bricks and burying them in our backyard. Hopefully our dog won't dig them up.

Well it's not ALL bad news. As of 11:00 AM, oil was down -$6.00, and you can always short some bank shares. I suspect BofA, WaMu and Citi are all going to drop further.

If I owed money to X, as per a note to X, and X was dissolved (administratively or via bankruptcy) would my debt to X also be dissolved (or subject to being extinguished) as part of that process?

What precise authority does the Federal Reserve have to enter a bankruptcy court carrying a suit case, or truck, full of money to place on deposit for the benefit of creditors on behalf of a bankrupt?

I am still trying to compare and contrast this with the Resolution Trust Corporation's facilitation of overnight transfers of unsound institutions (and/or their assets) to bigger fish.

I would like to know how the assets and liabilities for Bear Stearns would be treated if this were instead an (in)voluntary bankruptcy proceeding. This would at least fit more squarely within the notion of a final determination of rights and obligations of all the affected parties. The proceedings would also be open to the public and a judge could conveniently hear ancillary disputes in open court.

If the Federal Reserve is a party, as a surety of sorts with a claim on the assets, should they not be forced to enter a bankruptcy court and make their case just like all the other affected parties? If the Federal Reserve wishes to act instead as if they were a federal bankruptcy court then the affected parties are entitled to their due process and the public can demand that the proceedings be no less open and documented than any bankruptcy case.

There is an internal inconsistency here between the fire sale price (to obtain the notes evidencing a liability to the bankrupt) and the value that the asset buyer will claim is owed by such obligors. Let the obligors bid on the assets, their own notes, against JPMorgan. Or let them obtain funds direct from the "Feral" Reserve on like terms as that of JPMorgan to buy their own assets in direct competition with JPMorgan . . . for the benefit of obtaining a higher price . . . for the benefit of the entities to whom Bear Stearns is liable.

JPMorgan wants to buy junk debt but WITH RECOURSE rather than WITHOUT RECOURSE (here to the Federal Reserve), which they could do only it they kept it out of a bankruptcy court. [I got such a wild idea from reading RTC-related cases, that is: One feature was that the assets (debts to the institution) were recharacterized as a debt to the government as part of the plan to guarantee their value when retransferred to the bigger fish like BofA; thus confining the objections that a debtor could raise as to originally-private debt.]

I had gotten all myopic during the RTC's temporary existence trying to read every RTC-related S&L-related case I could access. It just all seems so irrelevant now. The word "liquidity" just seems to permeate the legal and PR realm with such fantastic fluidity that we should call the Fed's plan the WD-40 solution. (I suppose that the Feral Reserve can think of 18 USC 1014, arguably applicable here to this very deal in addition to the origination of the individual mortgages, as just a private right of action applicable only to them for their own private interests if they so choose, arbitrarily. Bush now seems on record as granting an advance pardon, of sorts.)

30 billion safety net? (To JPMorgan and no one else.)

"would my debt to X also be dissolved"

Well, if we let BSC declare bankruptcy, then the debt holders would split up whatever remainder there is, if that is 0.05 on the dollar, then so be it.

IF JPM buys them at a fire sale, I am assuming they are including the debt since BSC owns a $1.2B building and at $2/share JPM is paying $250M for all of BSC.

I still think a fund to buy back the subprime debt is probably the most workable, of course, politically that comes out as bailing out the big boys. However, if no one issues credit then we are all going to get stuck in a real deep recession.

Or maybe if they were thinking straight, how about a fund with a time limit to apply to help people re-fi their sub-prime mortgages back to something reasonable? This assumes they have the income to support a reasonable loan.

"JPMorgan wants to buy junk debt but WITH RECOURSE rather than WITHOUT RECOURSE"

I am confused, if your choice on debt is rescourse or non-recourse, why wouldn't you want non-recourse debt? If the Fed is picking it up, then it is non-recourse to JPM.

I don’t quite see the arguments put forth here. The Fed acted to dispel a wider crisis. Ted says, “let BS fail! Do you think the Bank of Iowa City is going to get this sweet heart deal?” Do you think the Bank of Iowa City has the same impact as the 5th largest investment bank in the US? Metro Watcher says “At least two things bother me about this experience. First, there was no way I could fully assess Bear's true financial condition before I purchased the shares.” Then why in hell would you buy the stock?? And “Second, I think shareholders possibly would have received far more than $2 a share if the damned Federal Reserve had not interfered.” I might remind Metro Watcher that stockholder value is ZERO in bankruptcy. Further: “Selling Bear for only $2 a share in a hastily arranged marriage without a shareholder vote doesn't sound right to me at all.” Hello, this company was BANKRUPT, what part of bankrupt do you not understand?
As to pdxnag, pretty much the same – BS was illiquid, could not met it’s immediate obligations, and the Fed (rightly) saw that an outright failure might have set off a series of undesirable reactions including the failure of other major financial institutions and a general failure in the banking system. Your suggestion that the millions of BS stockholders should be allowed to bid on the assets on the same terms is ludicrous. The Fed had to act quickly to avoid potentially disastrous reactions and inject liquidity into the financial system. As usual, the Fed gets blamed no matter what they do. If the Fed had done nothing and the BS collapse had pulled the country (and the world) into recession/depression, then what would you all be saying? As a banker, I am watching this entire situation unfold; I doubt any of the posters understand or realize the severity of the banking crisis that we are now in. Liquidity in the financial system is crucial not only to bankers, but to every person in the US.

You guys are doing a great job.

Accountability is not "undesirable." It is indeed the very mechanism that makes capitalism work, it works because it is without remorse.

"failure might have set off a series of undesirable reactions"

There is one number for the value of assets on the books of financial institutions for mortgages -- the face amount of the note.

Another is the value for the collateral that backs the notes.

There is a glaring mismatch between the two. (In my opinion/analysis the maximum value for any residence is something like triple the annual private sector wage of a mortgagor-occupant.)

There is absolutely nothing, systemically that is, that Bear Stearns could do now to raise or lower the price of the collateral. Nor any other individual financial institution.

The central question is when and how to "recognize" the gapping gap.

I am not noting a damn thing about what shareholders should do, relative to the actions of the board of their corporation. I have said what folks who took out mortgages should do. They should insist that they were swindled by their appraisers and by mortgage-broker spin-offs of big lenders into participating in an enterprise to defraud the Federal Reserve in violation of 18 USC 1014, and that their mortgage contract for the purchase of a house should be voided and the money should be retrieved from the seller that got the money.

If Bear Stearns were incorporated under Oregon law I would try to construe the following to attach the personal resources ratably of those folks that "own" shares, as such ownership is a double edged sword for ownership of financial institutions.

Section 3 of ARTICLE XI of the Oregon Constitution provides as follows:

Section 3. Liability of stockholders. The stockholders of all corporations and joint stock companies shall be liable for the indebtedness of said corporation to the amount of their stock subscribed and unpaid and no more, excepting that the stockholders of corporations or joint stock companies conducting the business of banking shall be individually liable equally and ratably and not one for another, for the benefit of the depositors of said bank, to the amount of their stock, at the par value thereof, in addition to the par value of such shares, unless such banking corporation shall have provided security through membership in the federal deposit insurance corporation or other instrumentality of the United States or otherwise for the benefit of the depositors of said bank equivalent in amount to such double liability of said stockholders.

What is or is not a "depositor" in the context of fancy hedges and derivatives? Is the Federal Reserve an "instrumentality of the United States"; as contrasted with the something like the Resolution Trust Corporation? Is the Federal Reserve a "depositor?"

I may think every member of Congress is a sleazebag, but it is their job (and their job alone, relative to the private Federal Reserve) to arrive at some imperfect systemic solution; even if for political reasons (just as with the S&L bailout politics and the timing of the same) they just sweep it under the rug until the middle of the term of the next presidency and just after the mid-term elections. Point your megaphone toward Congress and scream that your house, all our houses, are on fire . . . so that they can put it out. Their MO is to act only when they must, to put out fires. (Any political science student knows that our system is not "rational" and that it would be irrational to expect that it could or should be rational.)

The Federal Reserve started/participated-in this mess by converting the "temporary" monetary fix of inducing construct spending to pull out of some then-existing recession into a systemic gimmick to give an illusion of growth and wealth. (Note my reference to Veblen on the zero-sum gain of credit, when applied to all in aggregate, notwithstanding the benefit micro-economically for an individual entity relative to their market competitors.) The gimmick was embraced too as part of the politics of capital gains tax rate tweaks, to buy votes even when the "wealth" that was "created" was instead nothing but debasement of the currency and a disguised reduction of the relative reward for labor and genuine savings and entrepreneurship. (Yeah, I like Veblen generally on this point.)

gbh -- "I doubt any of the posters understand or realize the severity of the banking crisis"

One subject I enjoyed, with a passion, was Economics of Lesser Industrialized Countries. It meshed with trying to understand political upheaval all over this crazy world of ours. A simple Comparative Economic Systems course offers at least a quick summary of schemes world wide and the tools to analyze the efficacy of them toward meeting several categories of goals.

If the fed gave me ten million bucks to deposit in a bank, with a guaranteed spread of two percent, and a guarantee of cover if the bank failed I too might claim that the world is on fire . . . . when it becomes generally understood that the fed has lost their grasp of facts and credibility. (Perspective matters. It might also be framed as equitable performance.)

How many Americans have savings in banks today? This is a question that is posed to make you think about how Congress might act, assuming that the voters know a sufficient subset of relevant facts necessary to act in their own self-interest.

If "liquidity" is your mantra-response then I'll be happy with 20 million bucks and a one percent spread. We could repeat the dialog, and response, until we have a classic case of hyperinflation generally rather than just in asset prices.

(Extra credit proposition.) I am just waiting for the next hammer to hit. Folks who have managed to obtain monopolistic control of the businesses that deliver basic necessities will cut back on supply (raise prices) so as to try to maintain revenue and profits from diminished unit sales/services. This is the consequence of the distortion of the market caused by the fever to securitize all major businesses through easy money and the treatment of stocks as a money equivalent that is itself hyper-inflated through stock options and such.

(If I had more time I might have been able to reduce the word count . . . sorry. )

gdh, there are two main reasons why companies go bankrupt. One is when their debts exceed their assets, and the other is when they are illiquid, as was the case with Bear.

If Bear's debts had exceeded its assets, I wouldn't be complaining here about the way the fed handled this situation. However, Bear had a book value of between $70 and $80 a share, meaning that if it had been put through bankruptcy court, I believe the shareholders would have eventually received far more than $2 a share, as there is a very good probability that the credit markets will revive in the next two years.

As to why did I buy the stock, given the inadequacy of available information about its true condition? I did so because I looked at the available information and decided Bear was worth the risk of losing, at most, $10 to $20 a share. Given its long history, its size, the earnings estimate of stock analysts, and other factors, I concluded Bear had little downside risk and lots of upside potential. I was wrong, yes, but I lost not so much because of bad analysis, but because of the lack of key information. I've learned my lesson now: financial statements prepared under GAAP and audited by high-priced "independent" auditors aren't worth a wad of spit.

Metro Watcher,

What you did was try to time the market and catch a bounce,it is risky. You saw what you believed to be a blue chip fall from $170 to $90. It was a bad trade, we all have made them. Review your decision making process and the factors and learn from it, dont just descide to put all your assets in gold. That will be more risky then when you bought BSC.

Metro Watcher - I agree that in your situation that you did not have enough information. However, it is not due to a problem with GAAP and CPAs, it was due to the rapidly changing financial situation. Lesson learned here is if you are willing to buy based on market timing, be ready to lose. I disagree with your assessment of BSC in that it was valued at $20B but that included $30B in subprime derivatives. Those assets had little or no value, hence BSC's libilities DID exceed assets. Pdxnag is incorrect in stating "There is one number for the value of assets on the books of financial institutions for mortgages -- the face amount of the note." No, the value is what a willing buyer will pay for the notes. In this case JP Morgan wanted nothing to do with the 'notes' and apparently no one else either. That is why BSC and other investment banks are in trouble - these supposedly short-term investments cannot be sold and without a ready buyer, cannot be valued.

Pdxnag is waiting for the next hammer to drop and many are saying that it will be the failure of the corporate bond market - starting with junk bonds.

"If "liquidity" is your mantra-response then I'll be happy with 20 million bucks and a one percent spread"

Do you mean a 1% rate of return?, or do you mean a 1% spread over t yields? or diff of bid/ask?

Also The biggest issue affecting the liquidiy discussion is leverage.

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