NEW YORK - Just four days after Bear Stearns Chief Executive Alan Schwartz assured Wall Street that his company was not in trouble, he was forced on Sunday to sell the investment bank to competitor JPMorgan Chase for a bargain-basement price of $2 a share, or $236.2 million.
The stunning last-minute buyout was aimed at averting a Bear Stearns bankruptcy and a spreading crisis of confidence in the global financial system sparked by the collapse in the subprime mortgage market.
Bear Stearns was the most exposed to risky bets on the loans; it is now the first major bank to be undone by that market’s collapse.
The Federal Reserve and the U.S. government swiftly approved the all-stock buyout, showing the urgency of completing the deal before world markets opened.
The Fed also essentially made the takeover risk-free by saying it would guarantee up to $30 billion of the troubled mortgage and other assets that got the nation’s fifth-largest investment bank into trouble.
“This is going to go down in very historic terms,” said Peter Dunay, chief investment strategist for New York-based Meridian Equity Partners. “This is about credit being overextended, and how bad it is for major financial institutions and for individuals. This is why we’re probably heading into a recession.”
JPMorgan Chase & Co. said it will guarantee all business — such as trading and investment banking — until Bear Stearns’ shareholders approve the deal, which is expected to be completed during the second quarter.
The acquisition includes Bear Stearns’ midtown Manhattan headquarters.
JPMorgan Chief Financial Officer Michael Cavanagh did not say what would happen to Bear Stearns’ 14,000 employees worldwide or whether the 85-year-old Bear Stearns name would live on after surviving the Great Depression, two World Wars and a slew of recessions.
He told analysts and investors on a conference call that JPMorgan was most interested in buying Bear Stearns’ prime brokerage business, which completes trades for big investors such as hedge funds.
At almost the same time as the deal for control of Bear Stearns was announced, the Federal Reserve said it approved a cut in its lending rate to banks to 3.25 percent from 3.50 percent and created another lending facility for big investment banks.
The central bank’s official meeting is on Tuesday.
Before the emergency move to lower the discount rate, which is the rate at which banks lend each other money, the Fed was widely expected to again cut its headline rate by as much as a full point to 2 percent.
“Having taking Bear Stearns out of the problem category, and the strong action by the Federal Reserve, we would anticipate the market will behave quite differently on Monday than it was Thursday or Friday,” Cavanagh said.
Some analysts expected it to be a brutal day for global stocks, nevertheless.
Shortly after the news broke, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei stock index plunged more than 3 percent in morning trading.