Lehman employees huddle in a conference room this morning at its European headquarters at 25 Bank Street, London.
The last four days have been dramatic at the House of Lehman. Over the weekend, negotiations for Korean bank KBD to buy the firm's Asset Management division fell-through. The stock price dropped 40% on Tuesday. Then on Wednesday morning, Lehman announced their third quarter losses, with Dick Fuld personally opening the 8am CFO conference call. The firm also announced the spin-off of their commercial mortgage business.
What was striking about yesterday's conference call (listen here) was how Dick was announcing that the firm was 'de-risking' its balance sheets and deals. De-risking? That's a new Lehman word. For a CEO who preached the fundamentals of risk management during the late 1990s and early 00's, yesterday must have been the bleakest day of his career. By using this new word, he publicly acknowledged that the firm had partied too much, risked too much, and was now in danger of becoming history thanks to billions lost in bad US and UK residential mortgages and new developments.
And de-risking in the third quarter might mean that it is too little, too late.
Lehman was hoping to sell either control of Neuberger Berman, or NB as a whole. They wanted bids to be placed yesterday. But today, CEO Dick Fuld is reportedly shopping the firm. There are only two firms I know of that could buy Lehman - Nomura in Japan or HSBC in Hong Kong/London. There is a rumor that Goldman Sachs could also buy Lehman for it's top-talented traders and bankers. But no matter which way this ends, most of Lehman's 20,000 remaining employees are going to have to seek new jobs, and soon.
Here are the latest headlines as they come-in today:
Reuters: Lehman Shares Drop As Wall Street Questions Survival
Reuters: Lehman CEO Fuld Finds Reputation At Risk
Reuters: Lehman Faces Hard Bargaining To Sell Neuberger Berman (We now think that the entire firm (Lehman, "the firm") could be sold within days.)
Reuters Quote: Lehman teetering on the edge of 'penny stock' territory.
New York Times (Registration Required): Tough Fight For Chief At Lehman
Update 12:33EDT: Morgan Stanley's Equities Research department has just suspended its ratings and price targets for Lehman stock. Either they think the stock activity is too crazy to know what is going on, or they know big news that is yet to be reported on Bloomberg, Reuters, and CNBC.
Seven years ago today, I walked out of my Lehman office shortly after American Airlines Flight 11 hit the building (1WTC). On the walk back home to Brooklyn, one of my co-workers speculated if the firm would go out of businesses if the insurance companies evoked the 'Act of God' clause. After some discussion, we concluded that wouldn't happen. Three days later, many of us were back to work as the markets re-opened, and we knew then that the firm would survive.
Now, on another beautiful, sunny September day, the firms survival as an independent investment bank is highly unlikely.