Lehman's Weekend Meetings Raise Questions
Senior executives atLehman Brothers, the embattled Wall Street securities firm, have been summoned this weekend for a series of meetings as the firm prepares to release second-quarter earnings on Monday and speculation swirls that the firm may be sold to a larger bank, CNBC has learned.
Shares of Lehman have been hammered in recent weeks amid growing investor concern over the firm's balance sheet.
On Monday, Lehman preannounced a $2.8 billion loss and that it would raise $6 billion in new capital to bolster its balance sheet, which is bleeding losses because of soured loans on its books.
On Thursday, CNBC was first to report that Erin Callen, the firm's chief financial officer, and Joe Gregory, Lehman's president, were stepping down from their posts, only adding to investor concerns about Lehman's future.
Lehman Chief Executive Dick Fuld has been working overtime to restore investor confidence in the firm a after some investors believed they were misled about the size of the firm's losses and need for new capital. Because of the eroding investors support, and damage stemming from the firm's financial troubles, speculation is growing that the firm might have to be sold. CNBC reported that private equity firm Blackstone is interested in taking a stake in Lehman. Other firms have expressed interest in buying Lehman as well. Only after the reports of a possible sale, did shares of Lehman reverse a week-long slide.
The weekend meetings are unusual, say people close to the firm. The executives summoned to headquarters include everyone from Stephen Lessing, the head of Lehman private client group to Scott Freidheim, the firm's co-chief administrative officer. It is unclear if the meetings are related to a possible deal, or just preparation for the Monday's official earnings announcement, possibly the most important earnings release for Lehman in recent years.
A spokeswoman for Lehman had no comment. Contacted at his office on Saturday morning, Freidheim had no comment as well.
Wall Street executives say Lehman's current problems have taken a tremendous toll on CEO Fuld, known as the "gorilla" on Wall Street because of his tough management style that has saved Lehman from crisis in the past.
Fuld has resisted selling Lehman to bigger players in the past, and in doing, has built one of the most successful securities firm, which before the recent crisis was a darling of Wall Street.
However, many Wall Street executive believe the current fiscal crisis hitting Lehman is different that past troubles because of the size of the bad loans on the firm's balance sheet, and because Wall Street firms will likely face eroding profit margins for at least the next year.
Like most firms on Wall Street, Lehman has been cutting back on how much risk it will taking in trading and other businesses, in an attempt to prevent the firm from imploding as Bear Stearns did three months ago. While taking less risk may soothe investors concerns that the firm may lose even more money, it also means that Lehman will produce lower profits in the future.
The lower profit margins combined with the possibility of further writedowns of losses could force Fuld to sell the firm. At the very least, people close to Lehman expect Fuld to make some announcement about Lehman's future on Monday when it releases earnings.