Sunday, 15 September 2013


So, you thought Lehman Brothers were dead and buried? Think again.
In the twilight world of finance they are resurrected, moving 'zombie-like' though the global capital world, still operating in the rarified atmosphere of a universe still trying to catch its breath from recession.

Lehman Brothers, mired in debt and leveraged to beyond its neck, filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy five years ago today on September 15, 2008. It was the largest banking bankruptcy in history. Over-leveraged the company had $600 billion (£377 billion) worth of assets when it filed no longer able to pay its creditors.

The dark vultures of Wall Street and The City were soon circling, Barclays bank swooped to purchase Lehman Brothers investment arm for a knockdown £250 million ($396 million) while in the same week Bank of America overpaid for an ailing Merril Lynch.

Close to collapse Merril Lynch were sold to Bank of America for $50 billion (£31.5 billion), though the latter soon became aware of the moribund state of its acquisition. Bank of America did attempt to back off from the deal but found they were legally compelled to complete business, takeover Merril Lynch and its massive debts.

Bank of America, of course, did consider taking over Lehman Brothers in the same period, but unable to get assurances from the US government they took their attentions elsewhere.

It also worth remembering that the British Government of the much maligned Gordon Brown blocked a Barclays Bank bid for the collapsing giant at the last minute.
Most of us were a bit bemused by the events of September 2008, how could anyone with such assets leverage themselves out of business? But, no matter what we thought, we all knew things would never be the same again.

The human cost of that dark day was huge, with around 25,000 people losing their jobs. There were images on the evening news of people carrying boxes out into the street. The end of a banking one commentator put it...has proved a bit premature.

In March 2012 Reuters, among others, reported that Lehman Brothers had exited bankruptcy and that the former mighty banking institution was still operating in Manhattan, albeit with a much reduced staffing compliment of 350.

What is left is a little spark of flame chasing, what they see as, the bank's debtors to try and recoup money for those creditors who were left high and dry at the time of the collapse. Lehman Brothers, in case you didn't know, still has access to billions of dollars worth of assets which it is trying to sell off to make good its debt.

Of course, the question still on everyone's lips and whispered around dark rooms where brandy is poured over wealthy throats - 'should Lehman Brothers been saved?'

Lehman Brothers collapse has long been considered the trigger for a global financial winter. As it toppled it brought with it many US household names before the contagion spread to other shores. American Insurance Group, the aforementioned Merril Lynch, the near collapse of Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan, and then the Royal Bank of Scotland fiasco, the bailout of HBOS and Lloyd's TSB.

Phenomenol sums of money were plucked from the pockets of unsuspecting taxpayers to shore up the crumbling edifice of one bank or financial institution after another. As Lehman Brothers was left in the desert without water, $186 billion (£117 billion ) was found to save AIG, yet some have suggested that had Lehman Brothers been saved the American taxpayer would have been saved a great deal of financial grief.

Larry McDonald, former Lehman employee and author of New York Times bestseller 'A Colossal Failure of Common Sense' - a book I would highly recommend - told me that Lehman Brothers could ( and should ) have been saved with $30 billion. This is comparable to the $31billion (£20billion) the British government used to save RBS.

I am told that Lehman Brothers will eventually be liquidated, but I am not convinced.

There is a whole book that could be written on this grand old bank and another story in what Larry McDonald told me, or in what his excellent book will tell you if you read it.

And yet there are more stories around those who worked for Lehman Brothers and what happened to them and those associated with that time of banking collapse - many of them are still doing very well thank you, and that is yet another story though many editors seem reticent to run with that one...I wonder why?

No comments:

Post a Comment