Monday, June 30, 2008 0 comments ++[ CLICK TO COMMENT ]++

Vanity Fair: Bringing Down Bear Stearns

The collapse of Bear Stearns is a pivotal event that will live on in our memories--even for those of us simply sitting on the sidelines and never stepped on Wall Street. Bringing Down Bear Stearns, a feature-length Vanity Fair article by Bryan Burrough, chronicles the events surrounding the collapse (thanks to The Big Picture for the original mention.) As is generally the case with these events, everyone has their own biased story so we really have no idea what the truth is.

If you have time to kill, pick up the magazine or check out the story online. This is not going to help you with your investments but you'll look back in 20 years as if history was being written all around you. Here is a taste of it...

(source: Bringing Down Bear Stearns, by Bryan Burrough. Vanity Fair. August 2008)

It was an uneventful morning—at first. Molinaro sat in his sixth-floor corner office, overlooking Madison Avenue, catching up on paperwork after a week-long trip visiting European investors. Then, around 11, something happened. Exactly what, no one knows to this day. But Bear’s stock began to fall. It was then, questioning his trading desks downstairs, that Molinaro first heard the rumor: Bear was having liquidity troubles, Wall Street’s way of saying the firm was running out of money. Molinaro made a face. This was crazy. There was no liquidity problem. Bear had about $18 billion in cash reserves.

Yet the whiff of gossip Molinaro heard that morning was the first tiny ripple in what within hours would grow into a tidal wave of rumor and speculation that would crash down upon Bear Stearns and, in the span of one fateful week, destroy a firm that had thrived on Wall Street since its founding, in 1923.

The fall of Bear Stearns wasn’t just another financial collapse. There has never been anything on Wall Street to compare to it: a “run” on a major investment bank, caused in large part not by a criminal indictment or some mammoth quarterly loss but by rumor and innuendo that, as best one can tell, had little basis in fact. Bear had endured more than its share of self-inflicted wounds in the previous year, but there was no reason it had to die that week in March.

What happened? Was it death by natural causes, or was it, as some suspect, murder? More than a few veteran Wall Streeters believe an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission will uncover evidence that Bear was the victim of a gigantic “bear raid”—that is, a malicious attack brought by so-called short-sellers, the vultures of Wall Street, who make bets that a firm’s stock will go down. It’s a surprisingly difficult theory to prove, and nothing short of government subpoenas is likely to do it. Faced with a thicket of lawsuits and federal investigations, not a soul in Bear’s boardroom will speak for the record, but on background, a few are finally ready to name names.

“I don’t know of any firm, no matter the capital, that could have withstood that kind of bombardment by the shorts,” says a vice-chairman of another major investment bank. “This was not about capital. It was about people losing confidence, spurred on by rumors fueled by people who had an interest in the fall of Bear Stearns.”

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