Crisis on Wall Street

Although it’s always a temptation to stay in bed on Monday morning, I’m sure many individuals wish they were able to erase this morning from their memory. Six months after the collapse of Bear Stearns, Wall Street awoke to a dramatically changed world as two more storied names -- Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., and Merrill Lynch & Co. -- fatalities of the U.S. housing crisis and global credit crunch, bit the dust. Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy filing rocked investors and pulled down financial stocks around the globe, reports MarketWatch. Filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection ended Lehman’s 158-year-old run (its shares plummeted 90 percent) and rattled the foundation of the global financial system. The third largest U.S. brokerage firm and largest mortgage underwriter, Lehman closes its doors with some $613 billion debt against total assets of $639 billion. Its filing with the Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of New York shows the company had more than 100,000 creditors. The failure came after a frantic weekend of negotiations in which potential acquirers (Barclays and Bank of America) backed away from a deal and federal officials balked at committing taxpayer funds to help save the Wall Street giant. Although the feds tried to organize a private-sector bailout because of fears that a bankruptcy could cause severe problems in the already fragile financial markets, they would not commit any more taxpayer dollars given the massive bailout a week ago of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Meanwhile, over the weekend, financially-troubled Merrill Lynch & Co. sold itself to Bank of America Corp. in an all-stock deal valued at $50 billion, creating a global giant rivaling Citigroup Inc., the largest U.S. bank in terms of assets. And there was other cautionary news as well. Insurance giant American International Group Inc. (AIG) is reportedly seeking emergency support from the Federal Reserve and is possibly in talks with billionaire Warren Buffett. Troubled Seattle-based thrift Washington Mutual Inc. has entered in talks with J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. To prevent a worldwide panic on stock and financial exchanges, a global consortium of banks, working with government officials in New York, announced a $70 billion pool of funds to lend to troubled financial companies, reports Associated Press.  Bank of America, Barclays, Citibank, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and UBS - each agreed to provide $7 billion "to help enhance liquidity and mitigate the unprecedented volatility and other challenges affecting global equity and debt markets." The Federal Reserve, which is now expected to lower rates, said it was broadening the types of collateral financial institutions can use to obtain loans from the Fed. The banking system is safe and sound," Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson declared at a mid-afternoon press conference today, seeking to ameliorate such concerns. "Nothing is more important than the stability and orderliness of our financial markets [and] regulators remain vigilant," Paulson continued. "We're working through a difficult period in our financial markets right now as we work of some of the past excesses, but the American people can remain confident in the soundness and resilience of our financial system." Nevertheless, what happens on Wall Street trickles down to Main Street … faster and faster in this electronic age. No hiding under the covers any more.