Heads rolled at Lehman Brothers as the Wall Street bank took action to restore its tattered credibility after a brutal couple of weeks raised questions about its viability and that of the rest of the financial sector.
The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times on A1 and The New York Times on C1 report that Lehman removed its president Joseph M. Gregory and its chief financial officer Erin Callan and that longtime CEO Richard Fuld may be next. They were just the latest high-profile Street executives to lose their jobs in the credit crisis.
Callan, the most prominent woman on Wall Street, has particularly had her credibility battered in recent days as she came out on the losing end of a public battle with hedge fund whiz David Einhorn, who has been touting Lehman’s woes and betting that the company’s share price will fall, which it has so far this week—by 26 percent. The Journal says yesterday’s 4.4 percent decline signals “continuing doubts that Lehman—and the rest of the financial sector—is out of the woods.” The NYT says Gregory led Lehman’s “disastrous” push into mortgages.
Einhorn maintains that Lehman has been fudging its accounting to stave off even deeper losses. Callan had argued that the company didn’t need to raise additional capital, and then turned around and raised billions (which it said it didn’t really need, but was raising just ‘cause) only weeks later. The markets were not reassured by a CFO firing during the midst of an accounting controversy, viewing it as an admission that the company’s books may be wrong, as the FT’s Lex column points out. Einhorn has said Callan fabricated an account of why the bank registered a several hundred million dollar gain in the first quarter.
Lehman shares are down 65 percent this year, Bloomberg says. It also notes that CEO Fuld was one of the Wall Street execs several weeks back who said “the worst is behind us.” The NYT notes that he seems to have hidden behind Callan, while the Los Angeles Times pointedly says:
It was the third time in 18 months that the highest-ranking woman on Wall Street lost her title while her male boss—the chief executive—kept his.
The Journal on C1 says movements in Lehman’s bonds yesterday show the markets don’t think the Federal Reserve will let it collapse like Bear Stearns. But all the papers say it’s likely the company will be swallowed by another in the months ahead.
The WSJ’s Heard on the Street says Lehman’s trading partners “while nervous, don’t seem to be pulling business from the firm.” But it says the company’s shareholders face years of weak prospects, and it still has some $65 billion in mortgage assets. The column says its weak board helped keep it from avoiding its current state.
KeyCorp cuts dividend, goes begging for cash
The crunch hit yet another bank as KeyCorp said it would reduce its dividend for the first time in forty-three years and raise $1.5 billion in fresh capital. It shares plummeted 24 percent.
The Journal on C1 says it’s a bad sign that even ”banks viewed as prudent in much of their past lending are being rocked by the housing decline and the credit-market crunch.” Its CEO Henry L. Meyer sounds like he just got hit by a truck:
“I’ve never seen this kind of incredibly fast deterioration in asset quality,” said Mr. Meyer, 58 years old, who has been in banking 35 years. “It was so fast that it was hard to get out of the way. It’s so fast that regulators are complaining that appraisals done every month are not fast enough. How fast is fast enough?”
What was that, honey? Oh, the stimulus check!
Retail sales jumped in May as the government’s stimulus checks got cashed and spent. Sales rose 1 percent in non-inflation-adjusted terms. The Journal says on A3 that some economists raised their projections for growth as a result, but that “rising prices and a weakening labor market could mean the boost to the economy will be short-lived.”