Bear Stearns Not Holding Talks With Potential Suitors

David Faber

Investment bank Bear Stearns doesn't appear to be holding talks about selling a stake to Warren Buffett or any other investors, contrary to earlier reports.

Shares of Bear Stearns rose sharply after the New York Times reported Wednesday that the company was in serious talks with Buffett and several other investors, including Bank of America, Wachovia and two Chinese banks.

But people have told CNBC that at present, Bear Stearns isn't holding talks with anyone.

Citing unnamed people briefed on the discussions, the Times said the talks involved the sale of up to a 20 percent stake in Bear Stearns.

A Bear Stearns spokesman declined to comment to CNBC on a potential deal. Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett's investment firm, never comments on any activities beyond what the Securities and Exchange Commission requires.

Hedge Fund Turmoil

Bear Stearns has this summer faced the collapse of two hedge funds, asset writedowns and poor trading results, amid declines in subprime and other mortgages. Third-quarter profit slid 61 percent, although Bear said it believed the worst was over. The shares trade at about 1.3 times book value.

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Bear Stearns' $850 million Asset-Backed Securities Fund experienced declines in July, prompting some investors to seek redemption of their investments.

The investment bank, however, believes the assets in the fund -- tied to Alt-A and prime mortgages -- are worth more than what current market conditions will allow.

Analysts who follow Bear Stearns have expressed doubts about the deal.

"I'm not certain why Bear would want to sell a piece of itself at an impaired value," Brad Hintz, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, told Reuters Thursday.

"This management team has gone its own way for too many years to suddenly decide it wants to sell out at a low valuation. It's a fine franchise that just went through a very difficult environment, but fixed-income problems don't last forever."