Lehman Brothers - Collapse - Causes - Subprime Mortgage Crisis

Subprime Mortgage Crisis

In August 2007, the firm closed its subprime lender, BNC Mortgage, eliminating 1,200 positions in 23 locations, and took an after-tax charge of $25 million and a $27 million reduction in goodwill. Lehman said that poor market conditions in the mortgage space "necessitated a substantial reduction in its resources and capacity in the subprime space".

In 2008, Lehman faced an unprecedented loss to the continuing subprime mortgage crisis. Lehman's loss was a result of having held on to large positions in subprime and other lower-rated mortgage tranches when securitizing the underlying mortgages; whether Lehman did this because it was simply unable to sell the lower-rated bonds, or made a conscious decision to hold them, is unclear. In any event, huge losses accrued in lower-rated mortgage-backed securities throughout 2008. In the second fiscal quarter, Lehman reported losses of $2.8 billion and was forced to sell off $6 billion in assets. In the first half of 2008 alone, Lehman stock lost 73% of its value as the credit market continued to tighten. In August 2008, Lehman reported that it intended to release 6% of its work force, 1,500 people, just ahead of its third-quarter-reporting deadline in September.

In September 2007, Joe Gregory appointed Erin Callan as CFO. On March 16, 2008, after rival Bear Stearns was taken over by JP Morgan Chase in a fire sale, market analysts suggested that Lehman would be the next major investment bank to fall. Callan fielded Lehman's first quarter conference call, where the firm posted a profit of $489 million, compared to Citigroup's $5.1 billion and Merrill Lynch's $1.97 billion losses which was Lehman’s 55th consecutive profitable quarter. The firm's stock price leapt 46 percent after that announcement.

On June 9, 2008, Lehman Brothers announced US$2.8 billion second-quarter loss, its first since being spun off from American Express, as market volatility rendered many of its hedges ineffective during that time. Lehman also reported that it had raised a further $6 billion in capital. As a result, there was major management shakeup, when Hugh "Skip" McGee III (head of investment banking) held a meeting with senior staff to strip Fuld and his lieutenants of their authority. Consequently, Joe Gregory agreed to resign as President and COO, and afterward he told Erin Callan that she had to resign as CFO. Callan was appointed CFO of Lehman in 2008 but served only for six months, before departing after her mentor Joe Gregory was demoted. Bart McDade was named to succeed Gregory as President and COO, as several senior executives had threatened to leave if he was not promoted. McDade took charge and brought back Michael Gelband and Alex Kirk, who had previously been pushed out of the firm by Gregory for not taking risks, while Fuld remained CEO he soon became isolated from McDade's team.

On August 22, 2008, shares in Lehman closed up 5% (16% for the week) on reports that the state-controlled Korea Development Bank was considering buying the bank. Most of those gains were quickly eroded as news came in that Korea Development Bank was "facing difficulties pleasing regulators and attracting partners for the deal." It culminated on September 9, when Lehman's shares plunged 45% to $7.79, after it was reported that the state-run South Korean firm had put talks on hold.

On September 17, 2008 Swiss Re estimated its overall net exposure to Lehman Brothers as approximately CHF 50 million.

Investor confidence continued to erode as Lehman's stock lost roughly half its value and pushed the S&P 500 down 3.4% on September 9. The Dow Jones lost 300 points the same day on investors' concerns about the security of the bank. The U.S. government did not announce any plans to assist with any possible financial crisis that emerged at Lehman.

The next day, Lehman announced a loss of $3.9 billion and its intent to sell off a majority stake in its investment-management business, which includes Neuberger Berman. The stock slid seven percent that day. Lehman, after earlier rejecting questions on the sale of the company, was reportedly searching for a buyer as its stock price dropped another 40 percent on September 11, 2008.

Just before the collapse of Lehman Brothers, executives at Neuberger Berman sent e-mail memos suggesting, among other things, that the Lehman Brothers' top people forgo multi-million dollar bonuses to "send a strong message to both employees and investors that management is not shirking accountability for recent performance."

Lehman Brothers Investment Management Director George Herbert Walker IV dismissed the proposal, going so far as to actually apologize to other members of the Lehman Brothers executive committee for the idea of bonus reduction having been suggested. He wrote, "Sorry team. I am not sure what's in the water at Neuberger Berman. I'm embarrassed and I apologize."

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