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Lehman posts $3.9-billion loss, moves to shore up books

Troubled investment bank plans to unload assets, cut dividend as it seeks cash infusion.

September 11, 2008|Walter Hamilton | Times Staff Writer

Amid mounting worries about its viability, Lehman Bros. Holdings Inc. said it would unload a chunk of troubled assets, sell a majority stake in its money-management unit and slash its dividend 93%.

The investment bank announced the moves as it reported a $3.9-billion fiscal third-quarter loss -- far bigger than its $2.8-billion second-quarter hit.

The loss came after the Wall Street firm wrote down the assets on its books by $7.8 billion. That included a $5.3-billion reduction on investments tied to residential mortgages and a $1.7-billion trim on commercial real estate investments.

The company also said it would shift up to $30 billion in commercial real estate assets to a new entity that will be spun off to shareholders.

To conserve cash, Lehman is chopping its annual dividend to 5 cents a share from 68 cents.

"This is an extraordinary time for our industry, and one of the toughest periods in the firm's history," Chief Executive Richard Fuld said in a statement.

The company's stock, which plummeted 45% Tuesday, jumped as much as 19% on the news but fell back to close at $7.25, down 54 cents, or 6.9%. The stock is down 58% year to date and is off 89% in the last 12 months.

Glaringly absent from Lehman's announcement was any sort of capital injection from outside investors that could bolster the company's balance sheet.

News on Tuesday that the company failed to persuade a South Korean state bank to buy a stake in the firm triggered the massive decline in Lehman's shares -- and forced the company to move up its restructuring announcement, originally scheduled for late next week.

Lehman's goal Wednesday was simply to buy time to find another capital partner, analysts said.

Like Bear Stearns Cos. before it, Lehman runs the risk that clients and other Wall Street firms could become so spooked about its financial health that they stop doing business with it -- the often fatal "run on the bank" scenario.

Unlike Bear Stearns, which was forced into the arms of rival JPMorgan Chase & Co. in March, Lehman has a fallback in that it can borrow from the Federal Reserve if it's strapped for money.

Nevertheless, Wall Street is losing patience with Lehman. Analysts chide the firm for not working faster and more aggressively to secure capital and clean up its balance sheet.

While rival Merrill Lynch last month dumped bad assets at less than a quarter of their original book value, Lehman has refused to conduct such a fire sale.

Although that might be a good strategy long-term, the market increasingly is questioning whether Lehman will have a long term.

As David Trone, an analyst at Fox-Pitt Kelton Cochran Caronia Waller, wrote in a note to clients Wednesday, Lehman is facing its "final options for saving the company."

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walter.hamilton@latimes.com

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