The Bear Stearns Companies, Inc., based in New York City, was one of the largest global investment banks and securities trading and brokerage firms prior to its collapse in 2008. The main business areas, based on 2006 net revenue distributions, were: capital markets (equities, fixed income, investment banking; just under 80%), wealth management (under 10%) and global clearing services (12%).
Beginning in 2007, the company was badly damaged by the subprime mortgage crisis. In March 2008, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York provided an emergency loan to try to avert a sudden collapse of the company. The company could not be saved, however, and was sold to JPMorgan Chase for as low as ten dollars per share, a price far below the 52-week high of $133.20 per share, traded before the crisis, although not as low as the two dollars per share originally agreed upon by Bear Stearns and JP Morgan Chase.
Bear Stearns' World Headquarters was located at 383 Madison Avenue, between East 46th Street and East 47th Street in Manhattan. The company employed more than 15,500 people worldwide. The firm was headquartered in New York City with offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Irvine, San Francisco, San Juan, Whippany, NJ and St. Louis. Internationally the firm had offices in London, Beijing, Dublin, Hong Kong, Lugano, Milan, São Paulo, Mumbai, Shanghai, Singapore, and Tokyo.
In 2005-2007, Bear Stearns was recognized as the "Most Admired" securities firm in Fortune’s "America's Most Admired Companies" survey, and second overall in the security firm section. The annual survey is a prestigious ranking of employee talent, quality of management and business innovation. This was the second time in three years that Bear Stearns had achieved this "top" distinction.
On March 17, 2008, JP Morgan Chase offered to acquire Bear Stearns at a price of $236 million, or $2 per share. On March 24, 2008 that offer was raised to $1.1 billion or $10 per share in an effort to pacify angry shareholders. JPMorgan Chase completed its acquisition of Bear Stearns on May 30, 2008 at the renegotiated price of $10 per share.
As of November 30, 2007 Bear Stearns had notional contract amounts of approximately $13.40 trillion in derivative financial instruments, of which $1.85 trillion were listed futures and option contracts. In addition, Bear Stearns was carrying more than $28 billion in __Exposure_Draft assets on its books at the end of fiscal 2007 versus a net equity position of only $11.1 billion. This $11.1 billion supported $395 billion in assets, which means a leverage ratio of 35.5 to 1. This highly leveraged balance sheet, consisting of many illiquid and potentially worthless assets, led to the rapid diminution of investor and lender confidence, which finally evaporated as Bear was forced to call the New York Federal Reserve to stave off the looming cascade of counterparty risk which would ensue from forced liquidation.
Bear Stearns made the first public securitization of Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) loans started in 1997. Editorialists in some American newspapers and US Congressman Ron Paul say the CRA loans were lent to otherwise un-credit-worthy consumers in the name of ending discrimination, although an analysis of actual lending patterns does not generally support this conclusion.
On June 22, 2007, Bear Stearns pledged a collateralized loan of up to $3.2 billion to "bail out" one of its funds, the Bear Stearns High-Grade Structured Credit Fund, while negotiating with other banks to loan money against collateral to another fund, the Bear Stearns High-Grade Structured Credit Enhanced Leveraged Fund. The funds were invested in thinly traded collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) found to be worth less than their mark-to-market value. Merrill Lynch seized $850 million worth of the underlying collateral but only was able to auction $100 million of them. The incident sparked concern of contagion as Bear Stearns might be forced to liquidate its CDOs, prompting a mark-down of similar assets in other portfolios. Richard A. Marin, a senior executive at Bear Stearns Asset Management responsible for the two hedge funds, was replaced on June 29 by Jeffrey B. Lane, a former Vice Chairman of rival investment bank, Lehman Brothers.
On August 1, 2007, investors in the two funds took action against Bear Stearns and its top management. The law firms of Jake Zamansky & Associates and Rich & Intelisano both filed arbitration claims with the National Association of Securities Dealers alleging that Bear Stearns misled investors about its exposure to the funds. This was the first legal action made against Bear Stearns, though there have been several others since then.
Co-President Warren Spector was forced to resign on August 5, 2007, as a result of errant trades that led to the collapse of two hedge funds backed primarily by subprime loans. A September 21 report in the New York Times noted that Bear Stearns posted a 61 percent drop in net profits due to their hedge fund losses. With Samuel Molinaro's November 15 revelation that Bear Stearns was writing down a further $1.2 billion in mortgage-related securities and would face its first loss in 83 years, Standard & Poor's downgraded the company's credit rating from AA to A.
Matthew Tannin and Ralph R. Cioffi, both former managers of hedge funds at Bear Stearns Companies, were arrested June 19, 2008. They are facing criminal charges and are suspected of misleading investors about the risks involved in the subprime market. Tannin and Cioffi have also been named in lawsuits brought forth by Barclays Bank, who claims they were one of the many investors mislead by the executives.
They were also named in civil lawsuits brought in 2007 by investors, including Barclays Bank PLC, who claimed they had been misled. Barclays claimed that Bear Stearns knew that certain assets in the Bear Stearns High-Grade Structured Credit Strategies Enhanced Leverage Master Fund were worth much less than their professed values. The suit claimed that Bear Stearns managers devised "a plan to make more money for themselves and further to use the Enhanced Fund as a repository for risky, poor-quality investments." The lawsuit said Bear Stearns told Barclays that the enhanced fund was up almost 6% through June 2007 — when "in reality, the portfolio's asset values were plummeting."
On March 20, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox said the collapse of Bear Stearns was due to a lack of confidence, not a lack of capital. Cox noted that Bear Stearns's problems escalated when rumors spread about its liquidity crisis which in turn eroded investor confidence in the firm. "Notwithstanding that Bear Stearns continued to have high quality collateral to provide as security for borrowings, market counterparties became less willing to enter into collateralized funding arrangements with Bear Stearns," said Cox. Bear Stearns' liquidity pool started at $18.1 billion on March 10 and then plummeted to $2 billion on March 13. Ultimately market rumors about Bear Stearns' difficulties became self-fulfilling, Cox said.
On March 24, 2008, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of shareholders, challenging the terms of JPMorgan’s recently announced acquisition of Bear Stearns. That same day, a new agreement was reached that raised JPMorgan Chase's offer to $10 a share, up from the initial $2 offer, that meant an offer of $1.2 billion. The revised deal was aimed to quiet upset investors and any subsequent legal action brought against JP Morgan Chase as a result of the deal as well as to prevent employees, many of whose past compensation consisted of Bear Stearns stock, from leaving for other firms. The Bear Stearns bailout was seen as an extreme-case scenario, and continues to raise significant questions about Fed intervention. On May 29, Bear Stearns shareholders approved the sale to JPMorgan Chase at the $10-per-share price.