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Lehman goes bust, Merrill rescued

Economic growth, Financial Events, Leverage
By Paul Hodges on 15-Sep-2008

The blog has never liked disaster movies, but it was quite a weekend for those who do. First, there was the hurricane hitting Houston and Texas. I used to live in Houston, and watching the pictures of the damage, could recognise familiar places washed away, or burnt down. The blog’s sympathy goes to all those affected.

Then, the financial hurricane arrived in New York. By Sunday night, Lehman, the 4th largest investment bank in the US was preparing for bankruptcy. And the world’s largest brokerage firm, Merrill Lynch, had been rescued by Bank of America. Ken Lewis, head of BofA, was quoted last October as saying that ‘I’ve had all the fun I can stand in investment banking’. Many more people will be echoing that thought this morning.

The scale of the US banking crisis is now starting to become clear to the world. The US government last week had to nationalise the two largest mortgage lenders, Fannie and Freddie. Both Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch have had to be rescued by other banks. And now Lehman has been let go, whilst 10 of the world’s largest banks have had to establish a $70bn fund to try and mitigate the fallout from its collapse.

Slowly but surely, what began a year ago as a sub-prime collapse, is becoming a financial disaster of epic proportions. As the Wall Street Journal, the house magazine of Wall Street, writes this morning, ‘The American financial system was shaken to its core on Sunday’. These are strong words from a publication not given to exaggeration. And more problems are round the corner, with insurance giant AIG now seeking a $40bn lifeline from the Federal Reserve.

Chemical company CEO’s need to start preparing contingency plans for surviving a major economic downturn. After the events of the last 48 hours, the chances of this occurring are becoming uncomfortably high.