The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times both report that our beloved national uncle, Jimmy “Nero” Cayne, has sold his entire stake in Bear Stearns for about $61 million. It’s a long way down for someone whose shares just last year were worth more than $1 billion.

Cayne, who will go down in Wall Street history for fiddling with bridge cards while Bear burned two weeks ago (not to mention last summer, when cracks first started to appear), apparently stepped away from the table long enough to sell his 5.6 million shares at $10.84 apiece, signaling that he thinks JPMorgan Chase won’t have to up its offer again.

A place at the Plaza

The FT says on page one that Cayne had plenty of opportunities to sell when Bear shares were trading at more than $170 last year. Now, the WSJ on C1 says, it seems Jimmy is having a little liquidity crisis of his own:

But compensation experts and associates of the Bear Stearns chairman say his stock sale probably has more to do with personal economics than with protesting the deal. One reason he may have wanted to free up some cash: a deal he and his wife recently closed to purchase new living space in New York’s Plaza Hotel for about $26 million.

“I would bet this is 100% driven by his own financial planning and needs,” said Alan Johnson, a New York compensation consultant. “He kind of went down with the ship and is jumping in a lifeboat.”

We’re not told by any of the papers how many shares Cayne sold over the years at what price—something that would be easy enough, if time consuming, to calculate from public filings—nor do we learn how much he earned in cash over the years. The New York Times says on C1 “whether the stock was flying high, as it was early last year, at $171, or plummeting, as it did in recent months, Mr. Cayne kept the vast bulk of his 5.6 million shares.”

It seems he’d have had to keep the “vast bulk” of his 5.6 million shares in order to sell 5.6 million shares yesterday, no?

The NYT reports that Chairman Cayne still isn’t actually, like, working too hard—he still comes into work, but isn’t involved much in figuring out what to do with the remainder of the company and its employees.

That doesn’t mean he isn’t taking this hard. The “brash executive who, with his ever-present cigar and suspender-snapping ways, and Friday golf outings in the summer, epitomized the classic, if outdated, picture of the Wall Street chieftain” is now the company “whipping boy” who’s been brought to his knees in more than one sense of the phrase.

In the past weeks, together with his wife, Patricia Cayne, who is a student of Jewish religious traditions, Mr. Cayne has spent considerable time searching for comparable events in religious history to see what lessons can be learned from the collapse of his firm, said a person who has spoken to him recently.

Ignorance is bridge (and golf)

Michael Lewis, in a column this week on Bloomberg, makes the case that CEOs like Cayne and Merrill Lynch’s Stan O’Neal play bridge and golf while their firms fold “not because they don’t care their firms are collapsing, but because they don’t know that their firms are collapsing.” He says that’s because of the incredibly complicated products that Wall Street has been shoveling out the door since Salomon Brothers showed how lucrative financial innovation could be in the 1980s.

This brings Lewis to an interesting conclusion:

At this point you have to at least wonder if Wall Street firms should be public companies. Their complexity renders them inherently opaque. Investors are right now waking up to this fact: They will demand to be paid for opacity, and also for volatility.

The firms have been revealed to be so treacherous in bad times that the only way they survive as public companies is to make outrageously huge sums in good times. That is, as public companies, to be economically viable they are likely to be socially problematic.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu.