Investment Banking, Hedge Funds, Leverage, Financing, Banking Crisis, Credit Crisis
In recent years Lehman Brothers, one of the five largest investment banks in the United States, had grown increasingly reliant on its fixed income trading and underwriting division, which served as the primary engine for its strong profit growth. The bank had also significantly increased its leverage over the same timeframe, going from a debt-to-equity ratio of 23.7x in 2003 to 35.2x in 2007. As leverage increased, the ongoing erosion of the mortgage-backed industry began to impact Lehman significantly and its stock price plummeted.
Unfortunately, public outcry over taxpayer assumption of $29 billion in potential Bear losses made repeating such a move politically untenable. The surreal scene of potential buyers traipsing into an investment bank’s headquarters over the weekend to consider various merger or spin-out scenarios repeated itself once again. This time, the Fed refused to back the failing bank’s liabilities, attempting instead to play last-minute suitors Bank of America, HSBC, Nomura Securities, and Barclay’s off each other, jawboning them by arguing that failing to step up to save Lehman would cause devastating counterparty runs on their own capital positions.
The Fed’s desperate attempts to arrange its second rescue of a major U.S. investment bank in six months failed when it refused to backstop losses from Lehman’s toxic mortgage holdings. Complicating matters was Lehman’s reliance on short-term repo loans to finance its balance sheet. Unfortunately, such loans required constant renewal by counterparties, who had grown increasingly nervous that Lehman would lose the ability to make good on its trades. With this sentiment swirling around Wall Street, Lehman was forced to announce the largest Chapter 11 filing in U.S. history, listing assets of $639 billion and liabilities of $768 billion. The second domino had fallen. It would not be the last.
This case covers the period from the sale of Bear Stearns to JP Morgan to the conversion into bank holding companies by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, including the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy and the sale of Merrill Lynch to Bank of America. The case explains the new global paradigm for the investment banking industry, including increased regulation, fewer competitors, lower leverage, reduced proprietary trading, and—potentially—reduced profits.