From the Wall Street Journal:
J.P. Morgan Buys Bear in Fire Sale, As Fed Widens Credit to Avert Crisis
Ailing Firm Sold For Just $2 a Share In U.S.-Backed Deal
By ROBIN SIDEL, DENNIS K. BERMAN, and KATE KELLY
March 17, 2008; Page A1
Pushed to the brink of collapse by the mortgage crisis, Bear Stearns Cos. agreed — after prodding by the federal government — to be sold to J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. for the fire-sale price of $2 a share in stock, or about $236 million.
Bear Stearns had a stock-market value of about $3.5 billion as of Friday — and was worth $20 billion in January 2007. But the crisis of confidence that swept the firm and fueled a customer exodus in recent days left Bear Stearns with a horrible choice: sell the firm — at any price — to a big bank willing to assume its trading obligations or file for bankruptcy.
“At the end of the day, what Bear Stearns was looking at was either taking $2 a share or going bust,” said one person involved in the negotiations. “Those were the only options.”
The sale of Bear Stearns and Sunday night’s move by the Fed to offer loans to other securities dealers mark the latest historic turns in what has become the most pervasive financial crisis in a generation. The issue is no longer whether it will yield a recession — that seems almost certain — but whether the concerted efforts of Wall Street and Washington can head off a recession much deeper and more prolonged than the past two, relatively mild ones.
Bear Stearns’s sudden meltdown forced the federal government to come to grips with the potential collapse of a major Wall Street institution for the first time in a decade. In 1998, about a dozen firms, with encouragement from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, provided a $3.6 billion bailout of Long-Term Capital Management that kept the big hedge fund alive long enough to liquidate its positions. Bear Stearns famously refused to participate in that rescue.
The Federal Reserve, struggling to prevent a meltdown in financial markets, cut the rate on direct loans to banks and became lender of last resort to the biggest dealers in U.S. government bonds.
In its first weekend emergency action in almost three decades, the central bank lowered the so-called discount rate by a quarter of a percentage point to 3.25 percent. The Fed also will lend to the 20 firms that buy Treasury securities directly from it. In a further step, the Fed will provide up to $30 billion to JPMorgan Chase & Co. to help it finance the purchase of Bear Stearns Cos. after a run on Wall Street’s fifth-largest securities firm.
“It is a serious extension of putting the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet in harm’s way,” said Vincent Reinhart, former director of the Division of Monetary Affairs at the Fed and now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “That’s got to tell you the economy is in a pretty precarious state.”