Monday, March 24, 2008

Monday, Monday...

News today that peaked my interest...

Canadian dollar dips to 97.42 cents US. OK.

Some US company called Bear Stearns did something today which leads the business news headlines and tells me that I need to find out what happened and what the hell this company does... News at 11. :)

So I googled "Bear Stearns" and the first listing was for the NY Times and the article is titled, "The Bear Stearns Crisis".


Now I'm curious, so I read this article:

The subprime mortgage meltdown made 2007 a disastrous year for Bear Stearns, one of the nation’s largest underwriters of mortgage bonds. Beginning this summer with the housing slowdown, Bear Stearns has stood as the prime example of how
Wall Street’s big bet on securities based on risky home loans went south.
While many of its peers, including Merrill, Morgan Stanley and
Citigroup, have announced far more in devaluations, Bear Stearns draws far more of its profit from its trading operations. That was reflected in its fixed income unit, which reported a net loss of $1.5 billion, down sharply from the $1.1 billion in profit the bank reported for the same time last year.
While there were rumblings about the weakness of the subprime mortgage in the spring of 2007, it was the collapse in June of two internal Bear Stearns hedge funds that had been heavily invested in mortgage securities that kicked off the
full-fledged market panic that peaked in August.

This doesn't tell me enough about the company or what is going on...

Still curious.

JP Morgan Chase was in talks on Sunday night for a deal that would quintuple its offer for Bear Stearns, the beleaguered investment bank, in an effort to pacify angry Bear shareholders, according to people involved in the negotiations.

JPMorgan Chase initially offered $2 a share for Bear, angering the beleaguered firm’s stockholders who said the offer was too low. The sweetened offer is intended to win over stockholders who vowed to fight the original fire-sale deal, struck only a week ago at the behest of the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department.

Under the terms being discussed, JPMorgan would pay $10 a share in stock for Bear, up from its initial offer of $2 a share — a figure that represented a mere one-fifteenth of Bear’s going market price.

The Fed, which must approve any new deal, was balking at the new offer price on Sunday night after several days of frantic, secret negotiations, these people said. As a result, it was still possible the renegotiated deal might be postponed or collapse entirely, said these people, who were granted anonymity because of their confidentiality agreements.

If the Fed were to reject the new proposal, it could set off a furor among shareholders of both firms that the government was preventing them from making a fair deal.

The renegotiation, which would set a sale price of more than $1 billion, comes after a tumultuous week on Wall Street and in Washington because of the near collapse of Bear and the hastily devised deal to save it.

While the initial agreement appeared to have defused the financial crisis of confidence that undid Bear, the initial terms of the deal — and the government’s controversial role in reaching them — drew criticism from those who say the takeover amounts to a government bailout of Bear, a firm at the center of the mortgage meltdown.

A new deal could raise even more questions about the Fed’s involvement in the negotiations. As part of the original deal, the Fed guaranteed to take on $30 billion of Bear’s most toxic assets. The central bank also directed JPMorgan to pay no more than $2 a share for Bear to assure that it would not appear that the Bear shareholders were being rescued, according to people involved in the negotiations.

In television interviews last week, the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., who has been closely involved in the negotiations, sought to portray the agreement not as a rescue effort but as a way to provide stability for the entire financial markets. “Let me say that the Bear Stearns situation has been very painful for the Bear Stearns shareholders,” Mr. Paulson said, referring to the $2 a share price. “So I don’t think that they think that they’ve been bailed out here.”

If the price is increased, however, some critics could have more ammunition to complain that taxpayers are helping to bail out a Wall Street firm that should be responsible for its own risky behavior. That is one reason the Fed was hesitant on Sunday night to approve the transaction at $10 a share, people briefed on the talks said.

Ahhh. Here is why it is so important to keep this company alive...

Inside Bear, the vitriol over that bargain-basement price was palpable last week. Bear employees own more than a third of Bear’s stock, and many longtime employees faced the prospect of losing all their savings. On Monday, some were seen crying in the hallways of the firm’s Midtown Manhattan headquarters.

One employee started a Web site to rally opposition to the deal. Some employees said they talked back to their new supervisors from JPMorgan, which commandeered desks and conference rooms after being given operational control of the firm last week.

The new price would still be a small fraction of what Bear Stearns was worth before its recent meltdown. Its shares were trading at about $67 two weeks ago and as high as $170 a year ago. So $2 a share, or even $10 a share is a fraction of what the company was worth.

Even after JPMorgan announced that it would acquire Bear for $2 a share, investors bid up the stock to close at $5.96 on Friday in anticipation that a better deal would be reached.
Some of Bear’s largest shareholders have even considered voting down the deal to send the firm into bankruptcy protection, where they speculate they might get more than $2 a share from creditors.

The British billionaire financier Joe Lewis, the firm’s largest shareholder, who had invested $1.26 billion in Bear over the last year at an average price of about $104, said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that he would seek to block the deal by taking “whatever action” necessary and would “encourage” the firm and “third parties to consider other strategic transactions.”

He and James E. Cayne, Bear’s chairman, were talking informally to friends and others about finding investors to mount a rival bid.

A major aim of a new agreement would be to provide assurances to investors who trade with Bear that it will continue to be open for business. Even with JPMorgan’s original agreement in place last week, some of Bear’s largest customers would not trade with it, still nervous that the deal might unravel.
James Dimon, JP Morgan CEO even offered certain employees cash and stock incentives to stay on and made calls to his rival chief executives on Wall Street — John J. Mack at Morgan Stanley and John A. Thain at Merrill Lynch, among them — pleading with them not to recruit Bear employees during the transition.

Moreover, Mr. Dimon, who had indignantly told associates that he would “send Bear back into bankruptcy” if the deal was struck down, was persuaded by his advisers that he had less leverage than he thought, according to people briefed on the conversation. Such vindictive behavior, they told him, would turn into a legal and public relations nightmare.

So interesting that all these US companies that made so much money giving out mortgages to US citizens who would normally not qualify for one, and then after taking they interest payments and foreclosing on their houses when they missed payments (being able to then sell the house for close to full resale value) and now crying foul and seeking government relief when their business hits a downturn and they can no longer continue to operate and earn $107/share. I'm crying for them... NOT. This is exactly why I refuse to play the market AND should there not be some sort of legal action against company's that make money praying on the poor and uneducated - the majority of people who lost their houses and savings in this type of situation. Very similar to the problem with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, two US mortgage firms who went belly up and lost a ton of cash doing the same thing... Will people never learn???

So if you made it this far, congratulations, you get an "A" in economics too. You must also surely have some strong feelings towards government (taxpayer) bailout of firms like these and I would love to hear about it. I know somewhere, my professor, Dr. Moody would be proud.

I really agree that the type of instruments being traded, and greed, which has brought this about - sharing blame with the fall in the real estate market. It is the private trading of complex instruments that worries regulators and Wall Street and that have created stresses in the broader economy. Economic downturns and panics have occurred before, of course. Few, however, have posed such a serious threat to the entire financial system that regulators have responded as if they were confronting a potential epidemic.

A big problem has to do with the dizzying array of innovative products created by the biggest banks and brokerage firms that experts now acknowledge are hard to understand and even harder to value. In the past decade, there has been an explosion in complex derivative instruments, such as collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps, which were intended primarily to transfer risk. These products are virtually hidden from investors, analysts and regulators, even though they have emerged as one of Wall Street’s most outsized profit engines. They don’t trade openly on public exchanges, and financial services firms disclose few details about them.

Used judiciously, derivatives can limit the damage from financial miscues and uncertainty, greasing the wheels of commerce. Used unwisely — when greed and the urge to gamble with borrowed money overtake sensible risk-taking — derivatives can become Wall Street’s version of nitroglycerin.

Bear Stearns’s vast portfolio of these exact instruments was among the main reasons for the bank’s collapse, but derivatives are buried in the accounts of just about every Wall Street firm, as well as major commercial banks like JPMorgan Chase.

What’s more, these exotic investments have been exported all over the globe, causing losses in places as distant from Wall Street as a small Norwegian town north of the Arctic Circle, so more fallout is expected.

Only time will tell.

So here is how it all played out... JPMorgan Chase bought 39.5% of the shares - newly issued stock - at $10.00 a share, and this leaves JPMorgan on the hook for the first billion dollars of losses, then the US government on the hook for any losses after that. As of 10:12 this morning, trading in Bear Stearns was up over 75% and the stock was climbing to $11/share. JPMorgan stock was also climbing on the news.

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