Lehman Brothers put itself on the block Wednesday as part of a last-ditch effort to rescue the investment bank from bad bets on real-estate-related holdings that have already laid low other storied Wall Street firms.
NEW YORK — Lehman Brothers put itself on the block Wednesday as part of a last-ditch effort to rescue the investment bank from bad bets on real-estate-related holdings that have already laid low other storied Wall Street firms.
Dick Fuld, the 158-year-old company’s chief executive known as “the gorilla” for his approach to investment banking, outlined a plan Wednesday to sell off Lehman’s well-respected investment-management unit and spin off its commercial real-estate assets after it reported an almost $4 billion third-quarter loss.
Fuld, the longest serving CEO on Wall Street, also said the firm would examine all other options — including a sale of the company he joined right out of college. Finding a buyer might pre-empt any hostile takeovers now that Lehman’s stock has plunged from $67.73 a year ago to $7.25 Wednesday, giving it a shrunken market capitalization of $7.6 billion.
For investors, the strategy Fuld presented seemed long on hope, short on details.
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“This is agonizing for shareholders,” said Mark Williams, a professor of finance at Boston University School of Management. “Fuld was supposed to have a war room started in March, when Bear Stearns nearly collapsed, to solve these problems, and at this point he has failed miserably.”
The nation’s fourth-largest investment bank plans to sell a 55 percent stake in its investment-management division, which includes its prized Neuberger Berman asset-management unit. Lehman said it is in advanced talks with several bidders, but refused to give a timeline about when a deal would take place.
Investors were discouraged that no buyer had been named. Lehman began pitching a deal to private-equity firms two months ago. Analysts say the sale could fetch $3 billion.
Further, the firm is also taking a big bet that a spinoff of its commercial real-estate assets will get a strong market reception in early 2009. The new entity will be called Real Estate Investments Global, and will be run by an independent management.
Williams thinks that Fuld now has a limited amount of time, perhaps until Monday, to unveil a bona fide deal or run the risk of shares tumbling even further. And, he said, that could lead to a worst-case scenario where rumors about the company cause anxious trading partners to pull business — a scenario that felled Bear Stearns six months ago.
Lehman shares, which shed 54 cents to $7.25 Wednesday, tumbled another 6.9 percent in after hours trading.
The contagion spread to other financial companies. Washington Mutual plunged 74 cents, or 22.4 percent, to $2.56 after setting a multiyear low of $2.30 earlier. Seattle-based WaMu, among the banks hit hardest by the housing mess, has seen the value of its shares plunge 76 percent this year, as it battles rising mortgage delinquencies and defaults.
Shares of Citigroup, JPMorgan, Bank of America and Wachovia also fell.
Lehman Brothers’ crisis came to a head Tuesday when its shares plunged almost 50 percent after reports that the head of South Korea’s financial regulator said talks about a possible investment had ended. Fuld had been in negotiations with state-owned Korea Development Bank for several weeks.
Lehman has also been a major player in financial deals for office buildings, hotels and retail centers in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
But over the past year, the credit crunch has spread to commercial real-estate financing, stalling or killing plans for some major developments in cities around the world.
With weak demand and prices falling in major cities around the world, “the only sellers out there today are sellers that have to sell,” said Lawrence Longua, a commercial real-estate-finance expert at New York University Schack Institute of Real Estate. “Values in commercial real estate are clearly not going up.”
Associated Press business reporter Alan Zibel contributed to this story.