Lehman Brothers has approached other major financial institutions about a potential acquisition or investment in the battered securities firm, people close to the situation said Thursday.
The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the situation, reported that Bank of America Corp. was in “preliminary discussions about a transaction.” The Journal said the Charlotte-based bank could be Lehman's best hope of a sale, but it may only do a deal if it is encouraged by the federal government.
Bank of America is already grappling with its purchase of another troubled institution – mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp.
The Journal said the situation was so fluid that it was too early to say whether a sale would occur. Lehman shares are down more than 40 percent today to $4.25.
Bank of America spokesman Scott Silvestri said the bank doesn't comment on “market rumor and speculation.”
Buying Lehman would run counter to the recent downsizing of Bank of America's corporate and investment bank following credit crunch-related losses. At an investor conference Wednesday, Brian Moynihan, head of the corporate and investment bank, said his unit had cut 3,400 jobs, or 15 percent of its positions, since October. He also emphasized plans for internal growth.
When the unit's troubles first surfaced last fall, Bank of America chief executive Ken Lewis famously said he had had all the fun he could stand in investment banking. Lewis, however, also has gained a reputation as an astute dealmaker, sometimes targeting troubled companies, which come with a lower price tag. In July, he bought Countrywide for $2.5 billion.
Lehman, the nation's No. 4 investment bank, has been casting a wide net to find a potential buyer for all or part of the 158-year-old firm, bankers and executives at other financial companies said Thursday.
The bankers and executives asked not to be named because they are not authorized to comment publicly. Randy Whitestone, a spokesman for Lehman, declined to comment.
Along with Bank of America., France's BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank AG and Britain's Barclay's Plc have been mentioned this week as potential buyers of Lehman, which Wednesday outlined a plan to sell and spin off assets to raise money.
The bankers and executives said Lehman's leader, Richard Fuld, also has been stepping up talks with private equity firms such as Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Bain Capital to acquire its investment management division that includes Neuberger Berman.
Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.'s shares tumbled again on Thursday after its rescue plan got a dismal reception from Wall Street and analyst reports cast doubt that the nation's fourth-largest investment bank can survive.
Its shares fell $2.62 to $4.63 — down more than 93 percent from their 52-week high of $67.73.
Other financial stocks were also pulled lower amid fear that banks and brokerages still have more pain to go before the year-old credit crisis begins to wane. Merrill Lynch & Co. shares fell 13 percent, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. dropped almost 2 percent, and Washington Mutual Inc. shed 11.2 percent.
On Wednesday, Lehman Brothers outlined a blueprint to sell off its well-respected investment management unit and spin off its commercial real estate assets. The strategy is 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.
Lehman Chief Executive Fuld, 62, 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.
“We remain committed to examining all strategic alternatives to maximize shareholder value,” Fuld said on a conference call on Wednesday.
Analysts said investors had hoped to see a solid plan in place to offset almost $6.5 billion of losses during the past two quarters.
“Management did not successfully put to rest the issues that had been pressuring the stock,” Goldman Sachs analyst William Tanona wrote in a research report.
Lehman said Wednesday it plans to sell a 55 percent stake in its investment management division, which includes its prized Neuberger Berman asset management unit.
Investors were discouraged that no specific buyer had been named. Lehman began pitching a deal to private-equity firms two months ago. Analysts believe the sale could fetch about $3 billion.
Further, the firm is also taking a big bet that a spin off 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 independent management.
Wall Street remains skittish about financial stocks since a run on Bear Stearns caused the U.S. government to orchestrate its sale to JPMorgan Chase & Co. in March. Lehman, the biggest U.S. underwriter of mortgage-backed securities, was automatically scrutinized.
Global banks have lost more than $300 billion from write-downs since the housing slump evolved into a full-blown credit crunch.
Analysts believe that trying to engineer a reconstruction of Lehman Brothers will be a tough proposition considering the environment. The current financial crisis shows no sign of ending soon, credit conditions remain tight and big acquisitions are rare. Big institutional investors — like state-owned sovereign wealth funds and private-equity firms — aren't as willing to make major investments.
Staff Writer Rick Rothacker contributed.