Bear Stearns Closes in on Deal
To Sell Itself to J.P. Morgan
By DENNIS K. BERMAN, SUSANNE CRAIG and KATE KELLY
March 16, 2008 5:56 p.m.
Bear Stearns Cos. was closing in on a deal Sunday afternoon to sell itself to J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., as worries deepened that the financial crisis of confidence could spread if Bear failed to find a buyer by Monday morning.
People familiar with the discussions said all sides were pushing hard to complete an agreement before financial markets in Asia open for Monday trading. "None of these things is done until they're done," Treasury Department spokeswoman Michele Davis said Sunday afternoon. "But I think everyone's expectation is sometime in the early evening hopefully" the deal will be done.
Terms of the deal were still being hammered out Sunday afternoon. Reflecting the dire situation at Bear, the company is likely to fetch considerably less on a per-share basis than its stock price of $30 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading Friday at 4 p.m. Last year, the shares hit $170.
One stumbling point appeared to be the amount of risk that J.P. Morgan would absorb in any type of transaction. While J.P. Morgan is eager to snap up some of Bear Stearns assets -- such as its prime brokerage business that caters to hedge funds -- Chief Executive Officer James Dimon was reluctant to pursue the deal without certain assurances that would protect his firm's exposure, said people familiar with the matter.
Despite the emergency funding from J.P. Morgan and the Federal Reserve that was announced Friday and gives Bear access to cash for an initial period of 28 days, the clock is ticking against the 85-year-old company. Regulators, bankers and investors are concerned that the firm could plummet even further when markets open Monday. A continued exodus by parties that Bear trades with could even cause the investment bank to collapse.
Federal regulators also are trying to prevent Bear's crisis from mushrooming into a systemic threat to the stability of financial markets and other securities firm, for which confidence is essential to their ongoing operations. Unwinding Bear also would be a nightmare because it trades with nearly every firm on Wall Street.
This is a pretty big story, and I would say tune into all the business channels to see how the market reacts. It's bad out there, folks. And getting worse by the minute.