After this weekend’s deal to sell collapsing investment bank Bear Stearns to JPMorgan, market watchers were frantically scanning the horizon to see which financial firm might be next. The name on everybody’s lips turned out to be Lehman Brothers. The bank, whose profile is similar to that of Bear Stearns, was a major player in the subprime-mortgage market as of last summer, and its shares have tumbled from $82 then to $31.75 last night. It’s also the smallest of the most important Wall Street power firms. But Lehman CEO Richard Fuld aggressively made it clear yesterday that if there is in fact a domino effect among the firms, it won’t be his company that will be tumbled first. Why?
• Because Lehman learned a ton from a similar crisis in 1998, after a panic over Russian debt, and returned stronger.
• As a result, they have a much higher level of liquidity this time around. Like, $35 billion in cash and liquid assets, on top of $160 billion in “unencumbered” assets, so it can borrow more.
• The Fed’s move to cut the interest rate on direct loans to banks over the weekend already had a visible effect yesterday on Lehman’s stock — while at some points yesterday it was down as much as 40 percent, its closing price was down only 19 percent from last week.
• And the Fed is expected to lower rates again. Fuld says this, combined with the weekend cut, is going to take “the liquidity issue for the entire industry off the table.”
• In fact, today’s financial reports from Lehman are better than expected. As a result, the stock gained more than 12 percent in pre-market trading today.