Sunday, March 16, 2008

JPMorgan acquires troubled Bear

The deal values Bear Stearns at just $2 a share. Regulators hope purchase will stave off wider chaos in financial markets.

NEW YORK ( -- JPMorgan Chase & Co. said Sunday that it would acquire troubled Wall Street firm Bear Stearns for a mere fraction of what it was once worth amid deepening fears about further erosion of the world's financial markets.

But the reaction of stock markets in Asia was not promising: Major indexes were selling off, with the market in Hong Kong down nearly 5%.

The all-stock deal values Bear Stearns at $236 million, or just $2 a share. The company's stock had closed at $30 on Friday, down a staggering 47% for the day.

Regulators support the deal and the Federal Reserve provided $30 billion in funding: With the global credit crisis worsening, the Fed has been taking dramatic action to help banks and prevent widespread panic.

Over the past three days, roughly 200 JPMorgan staffers were working on the deal, assessing the strengths of Bear Stearns' different businesses and its exposure to toxic mortgage securities, JPMorgan executives said during a conference call held Sunday night.

They noted that the offering price, which comes at a steep discount to Bear Stearns book value price of $84 per share, was to provide a cushion to protect JPMorgan in turbulent times and would provide the company "margin for error."

The fire-sale price raises questions about the value of other investment banks.

"A $2 per share price will send a shudder through every investment bank investor in the world," said James Ellman, head of San Francisco-based Seacliff Capital, a hedge fund specializing in financial services. "Many will say that stand-alone investment banks' days are numbered."

That could spell trouble for firms such as Lehman Brothers and Jefferies Group, which, like Bear Stearns, don't have large asset or wealth-management businesses for support. These divisions are helping prop up firms such as Morgan Stanley during these tough times on Wall Street.

Bear Stearns was on the brink of financial collapse Friday when JPMorgan (JPM, Fortune 500) and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said they would provide the brokerage a short-term loan. Bear was dealing with a classic run-on-the-bank: The firm's short-term creditors refused to lend the firm any more money and simultaneously demanded repayment of outstanding debt.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said on Sunday that talks about how to rescue Bear had continued throughout the weekend. He defended the Fed's bailout on Friday as "the right decision" and said the Bush administration was ready to take other actions to bring stability to the financial markets.

The fast-track deal, which is expected to close by the end of June pending shareholder approval, is expected to generate roughly $1 billion in after-tax earnings for JPMorgan over the next 12 to 18 months.