Monday, September 15, 2008

Lehman, Listing $613 Billion in Debt, Files Biggest Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Ever; Global Markets Plummet

Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., the fourth-largest U.S. investment bank, succumbed to the subprime mortgage crisis it helped create in the biggest bankruptcy filing in history, writes Yalman Onaran and Christopher Scinta of Bloomberg this morning.

The 158-year-old firm, which survived railroad bankruptcies of the 1800s, the Great Depression in the 1930s and the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management a decade ago, filed a Chapter 11 petition with U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan today. The collapse of Lehman, which listed more than $613 billion of debt, dwarfs WorldCom Inc.'s insolvency in 2002 and Drexel Burnham Lambert's failure in 1990.

Lehman was forced into bankruptcy after Barclays Plc and Bank of America Corp. abandoned takeover talks yesterday and the company lost 94 percent of its market value this year. Chief Executive Officer Richard Fuld, who turned the New York-based firm into the biggest underwriter of mortgage-backed securities at the top of the U.S. real estate market, joins his counterparts at Bear Stearns Cos., Merrill Lynch & Co. and more than 10 banks that couldn't survive this year's credit crunch.

"There is likely to be a domino effect as other firms and individuals who relied on Lehman for financing feel the effects of its meltdown," said Charles "Chuck" Tatelbaum, a bankruptcy lawyer with Lauderdale, Florida-based Adorno & Yoss and former editor of the American Bankruptcy Institute Journal. "The whole thing is frankly frightening for the U.S. economy."

Lehman shares dropped 81 percent in Frankfurt trading to 75 cents from their $3.65 close in New York on Friday. UBS AG, HBOS Plc, and Axa SA led a decline of more than 3 percent for European stock markets on speculation a forced sale of Lehman's assets could lead to further writedowns at other banks.

Shares in U.S. banks trading in Frankfurt tumbled, with Lehman plunging 80 percent and Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and others all in retreat. Frankfurt-listed shares in AIG fell almost 30 percent, Reuters reported.

Merrill's shares offered a rare bright spot and its Frankfurt-based shares jumped 36 percent. Bank of America said it had agreed to buy Merrill in an all-share deal for the equivalent of $50 billion, or $29 a share, almost $12 a share above Friday's closing price.

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