Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Bailout to Bailout - The Collapse and Rescue of Bear Stearns

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. In addition to the term helicopter economics, we have also coined the term, helicopternomics, to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government and to update the old-fashioned term wheelbarrow economics.

Our video for this posting can be found at:

By March 10, 2008, rumors were flying everywhere on Wall Street that Bear Stearns was in trouble. In an attempt to counter these rumors, Bear's CEO released a statement to the press that the company had a sufficient liquidity cushion to weather the credit crisis. When a company is going under, it has no choice except to make such claims. Instead of being reassuring, this type of statement is an indication of serious trouble. After all, a sound company has no need to assure the public that its financial position is strong - and Bear Stearns was no exception. Insiders, of course, are not fooled by these proclamations, which are meant for the average investor. Indeed examination of options activity during Bear's last days shows heavy put buying that quickly turned into huge profits for those in the know.

According to an SEC report released the following week, Bear Stearns had a cash shortfall starting on March 11th, only one day after the CEO assured the public that Bear had sufficient liquidity. By the evening of March 13th, Bear was no longer a viable business and behind the scenes it was already working out the details of a bailout plan with the Fed. Ironically, if indeed it was a coincidence, earlier that day, S&P released a cheer-leading report heralding the end to subprime crisis write offs, which in turn led to a strong rally in U.S. financial stocks.

On Friday the 14th, Bear Stearns stock went into free fall. It closed at $30 a share, down from a high of over $171 at its peak in January 2007. Depending on the source, the book value for the company's stock was somewhere between $84 and $97 a share. The market obviously didn't agree and it would turn out the Fed's judgment was even more pessimistic. Nevertheless, after the close, the CEO stated in a conference call with investors that the book value was fundamentally unchanged. He also claimed that Bear's 'liquidity position had markedly deteriorated because of market rumors' indicating that management incompetence, the reporting of misleading financial figures, or that Bear actually being insolvent had nothing to do with the loss of faith in the company.

The CEO also announced an emergency 28-day loan from the U.S. Federal Reserve. The Fed had no real legal authority to assist Bear Stearns, so it funnelled the loan through JP Morgan, one of its member institutions. It justified its actions based on an obscure 1930s law that gives the Fed broad ability to grant loans to corporations in crisis conditions. During the weekend, the Fed would became even more proactive and Bear Stearns was no longer be an independent company when the markets opened again on Monday morning.

NEXT: Bailout to Bailout - The Bear Bailout and Its Aftermath

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup

No comments: