The Bear Stearns Companies, Inc. (former NYSE ticker symbol BSC) based in New York City, was a global investment bank and securities trading and brokerage, until its collapse and fire sale to JPMorgan Chase in 2008. The main business areas, based on 2006 net revenue distributions, were capital markets (equities, fixed income, investment banking; just under 80%), wealth management (under 10%), and global clearing services (12%).
Bear Stearns was involved in securitization and issued huge amounts of asset-backed securities, which in the case of mortgages were pioneered by Lewis S. Ranieri, "the father of mortgage securities". As investor losses mounted in those markets in 2006 and 2007, the company actually increased its exposure, especially the mortgage-backed assets that were central to the subprime mortgage crisis. In March 2008, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York provided an emergency loan to try to avert a sudden collapse of the company. The company could not be saved, however, and was sold to JP Morgan Chase for as low as ten dollars per share, a price far below the 52-week high of $133.20 per share, traded before the crisis, although not as low as the two dollars per share originally agreed upon by Bear Stearns and JP Morgan Chase.
The collapse of the company was a prelude to the risk management meltdown of the Wall Street investment bank industry in September 2008, and the subsequent global financial crisis and recession. In January 2010, JPMorgan discontinued use of the Bear Stearns name.
Bear Stearns was founded as an equity trading house on May Day 1923 by Joseph Bear, Robert Stearns and Harold Mayer with $500,000 in capital. Internal tensions quickly arose between the three founders. The firm survived the Wall Street Crash of 1929 without laying off any employees and by 1933 opened its first branch office in Chicago. In 1955, the firm opened its first international office in Amsterdam. In 1985, Bear Stearns became a publicly traded company. It served corporations, institutions, governments and individuals. The company's business included corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, institutional equities, fixed income sales & risk management, trading and research, private client services, derivatives, foreign exchange and futures sales and trading, asset management and custody services. Through Bear Stearns Securities Corp., it offered global clearing services to broker dealers, prime broker clients and other professional traders, including securities lending. Bear Stearns was also known for one of the most widely read market intelligence pieces on the street, known as the "Early Look at the Market - Bear Stearns Morning View" accompanied by Morning Meeting Packet. After the equity markets closed, the team was known for publishing its "Look Back At The Market". Adam Crisafulli was the mastermind behind the operation.
Bear Stearns' World Headquarters was located at 383 Madison Avenue, between East 46th Street and East 47th Street in Manhattan. The company employed more than 15,500 people worldwide. The firm was headquartered in New York City with offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Irvine, San Francisco, St. Louis, Whippany, New Jersey; and San Juan in Puerto Rico. Internationally the firm had offices in London, Beijing, Dublin, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Lugano, Milan, São Paulo, Mumbai, Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo.
In 2005-2007, Bear Stearns was recognized as the "Most Admired" securities firm in Fortune's "America's Most Admired Companies" survey, and second overall in the security firm section. The annual survey is a prestigious ranking of employee talent, quality of risk management and business innovation. This was the second time in three years that Bear Stearns had achieved this "top" distinction.
On March 17, 2008, JP Morgan Chase offered to acquire Bear Stearns at a price of $2 per share or $236 million. On March 24, 2008, that offer was raised to $10 per share or $1.1 billion in an effort to pacify angry shareholders. JPMorgan Chase completed its acquisition of Bear Stearns on May 30, 2008 at the renegotiated price of $10 per share. The U.S. Federal Reserve rewarded Bear Stearns' shareholders in the deal by taking responsibility for $29 billion in toxic assets in Bear Stearns' portfolio.
As of November 30, 2006, the company had total capital of approximately $66.7 billion and total assets of $350.4 billion. According to the April 2005 issue of Institutional Investor magazine, Bear Stearns was the seventh-largest securities firm in terms of total capital.
As of November 30, 2007, Bear Stearns had notional contract amounts of approximately $13.40 trillion in derivative financial instruments, of which $1.85 trillion were listed futures and option contracts. In addition, Bear Stearns was carrying more than $28 billion in 'level 3' assets on its books at the end of fiscal 2007 versus a net equity position of only $11.1 billion. This $11.1 billion supported $395 billion in assets, which means a leverage ratio of 35.5 to 1. This highly leveraged balance sheet, consisting of many illiquid and potentially worthless assets, led to the rapid diminution of investor and lender confidence, which finally evaporated as Bear was forced to call the New York Federal Reserve to stave off the looming cascade of counterparty risk which would ensue from forced liquidation.
On June 22, 2007, Bear Stearns pledged a collateralized loan of up to $3.2 billion to "bail out" one of its funds, the Bear Stearns High-Grade Structured Credit Fund, while negotiating with other banks to loan money against collateral to another fund, the Bear Stearns High-Grade Structured Credit Enhanced Leveraged Fund. Bear Stearns had originally put up just $35 million, so they were hesitant about the bailout, however CEO James Cayne and other senior executives worried about the damage to the company's reputation. The funds were invested in thinly traded collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). Merrill Lynch seized $850 million worth of the underlying collateral but only was able to auction $100 million of them. The incident sparked concern of contagion as Bear Stearns might be forced to liquidate its CDOs, prompting a mark-down of similar assets in other portfolios. Richard A. Marin, a senior executive at Bear Stearns Asset Management responsible for the two hedge funds, was replaced on June 29 by Jeffrey B. Lane, a former Vice Chairman of rival investment bank, Lehman Brothers.
During the week of July 16, 2007, Bear Stearns disclosed that the two subprime hedge funds had lost nearly all of their value amid a rapid decline in the market for subprime mortgages.
On August 1, 2007, investors in the two funds took action against Bear Stearns and its top board and risk management managers and officers. The law firms of Jake Zamansky & Associates and Rich & Intelisano both filed arbitration claims with the National Association of Securities Dealers alleging that Bear Stearns misled investors about its exposure to the funds. This was the first legal action made against Bear Stearns, though there have been several others since then. Co-President Warren Spector was asked to resign on August 5, 2007, as a result of the collapse of two hedge funds tied to subprime mortgages that were managed by Spector. A September 21 report in the New York Times noted that Bear Stearns posted a 61 percent drop in net profits due to their hedge fund losses. With Samuel Molinaro's November 15 revelation that Bear Stearns was writing down a further $1.2 billion in mortgage-related securities and would face its first loss in 83 years, Standard & Poor's downgraded the company's credit rating from AA to A.
Matthew Tannin and Ralph R. Cioffi, both former managers of hedge funds at Bear Stearns Companies, were arrested June 19, 2008. They faced criminal charges and were found not guilty of misleading investors about the risks involved in the subprime market. Tannin and Cioffi have also been named in lawsuits brought forth by Barclays Bank, who claims they were one of the many investors misled by the executives.
They were also named in civil lawsuits brought in 2007 by investors, including Barclays Bank PLC, who claimed they had been misled. Barclays claimed that Bear Stearns knew that certain assets in the Bear Stearns High-Grade Structured Credit Strategies Enhanced Leverage Master Fund were worth much less than their professed values. The suit claimed that Bear Stearns managers devised "a plan to make more money for themselves and further to use the Enhanced Fund as a repository for risky, poor-quality investments." The lawsuit said Bear Stearns told Barclays that the enhanced fund was up almost 6% through June 2007 — when "in reality, the portfolio's asset values were plummeting."