Lehman Looking to Sell Distressed Assets: Report
Amid growing speculation by Wall Street insiders and analysts this week that Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (LEH) may need to raise substantial capital to shore up its balance sheet, the company has begun taking steps to deleverage by looking to sell off its riskiest and most troubled assets, according to a published report late Tuesday evening. CNBC's Charlie Gasparino reported that Lehman's deleveraging plan includes unloading mortgage-related bonds, likely including collateralized debt obligations backed by asset-backed securities. Citing senior officials at the Wall Street firm, CNBC said that the firm has already unloaded $100 million in such assets for far; the size and scope of the alleged sale program remains unclear, nor is it clear if Lehman is looking to conduct a fire-sale of its assets, or pursuing a more orderly sales strategy. It's worth noting that news of Lehman's selling intentions comes at the same time troubled subprime mortgage operation Residential Capital LLC said Tuesday that it, too, will look to sell both whole loans and mortgage bonds in an effort to boost liquidity. Lehman has not commented to the press on the report; a call to the company's press desk on Wednesday was not immediately returned. The company has said, however, that raising additional capital is only one of the options on the table as it looks to restore investor confidence, according to a separate CNBC reported filed earlier on Wednesday. Speculation that Lehman could be the next major investment bank to fail has waxed and waned at varying levels ever since Bear Stearns & Cos. wobbled and was bailed out by JPMorgan & Chase Co. (JPM) and the Federal Reserve. For its part, Lehman has strongly asserted its capital sufficiency, dismissing any such claims; but the i-bank is now the smallest among Wall Street banks, a status that sources told Housing Wire leaves it somewhat vulnerable to what was characterized as "financial bullying." The firm posted a 57 percent drop in earnings in the most recent completed quarter, as it absorbed a $1.8 billion in mortgage-led write-downs. It's expected to post a loss for the second quarter, according to a review of most analysts' estimates by Housing Wire. While Lehman continues to remain mum to the press on any plans to raise capital, published reports Wednesday suggested the Wall Street firm is yet looking overseas for potential investment partners. In particular, the Wall Street Journal reported that it may be looking to a strong capital base in South Korea as a source of fresh funding. Not everyone, however, is convinced that Lehman needs new capital or that the stock hasn't already priced in any new capital altogether. Shares of the battered Wall Street firm reversed course strongly on the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday morning, jumping more than 7 percent on a call from Merrill Lynch (MER) analyst Guy Moszkowski that suggested the company's stock was "over-corrected." Bloomberg News first reported on the analysts' call. Shares in Lehman were trading at $31.97/share, up just under 5 percent, when this story was published. Disclosure: The author held no positions in LEH or MER when this story was originally published. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.