10 September, 2008

Lehman Bros losses put it at the edge of Massive Asset sale Cliff (Update)

Less than 24 hours after losing nearly half of its Market Cap, Lehman Brothers (LEH) gave Wall St. another reason to be somber about the future and health of the investing house. The whispers that Lehman was in dire financial straits have been resonating for some time, but as they grew louder so did the negotiations with Korea Development Bank, which eventually halted.

The end of those negotiations was the prologue of Lehman's 40% sell-off on Tuesday, and the announcement of a $3.9Billion quarterly loss is another driving stake into Investors spirits regarding the firm. Write-downs totaled $5.6Billion, causing the massive loss, which was even worse than analysts had expected ($2.2Billion). The company is also trying to shore up capital by auctioning off over half of its asset management group, cutting its dividend and setting up a spin-off of real estate holdings.

While all that looks dire, and Investors are still licking their wounds from the end of talks with KDB, Lehman has bought itself a little time by outlining this strategic plan on the heels of massive losses. Investors are willing right now to give the company a little bit of rope, but the first sign of additional trouble, in the form of further losses, an uneventful auction process or whispers of unattractive sale prices for some of its assets, will see traders and investors alike moving swiftly to other companies and other sectors.

A tough task is facing management these days; as headlines mount clients and employees are more likely to leave, which would make an already unstable liquidity position all that more turbulent. However some deals have already been outlined by Lehman, including a $4Billion formal engagement with BlackRock Inc. to sell UK based residential mortgage holdings and the spin-off of a commercial real estate public company named Real Estate Investments Global in the first quarter of 2009.

Oh and Lehman also slashed the dividend from $0.68 to $0.05, and the market's history with banks cutting their dividends and their correlated market performance over the last year has been well known. But in trying times for the financial industry, drastic measures must be taken to keep liquidity at somewhat reasonable levels.

It wasn't that long ago that with the help of the Fed, Bear Stearns had to be saved, but now it is closer than ever that Lehman stands near that same edge. I think Lehman will be alright as the market rights itself eventually, given it survives the fire sale, but with it being in this sector with these problems it'll still be able to be gotten for cheaper than $8/share.

Update: Sept 11/08 correction to Bear Stearns rescue details.
Disclosure: Author holds no position in LEH

No comments: