My Friend “T” at Bear Stearns is breaking my heart. There are about 14,000 employees at Bear Stearns in shock now. “T” and so many of his fellow workers have their total wealth tied up in company stock that is now almost as worthless as the value of their houses. JPMorgan Chase is not able to hire 14,000 new employees! So the workers at Bear Stearns are looking at each other wondering, “You? Me?” Ace Greenberg has been going into his office there every day for years and years and years. It must be tough for him to go to the office and talk to those employees. I have friends at Lehman Brothers, too, looking around, they say, as if they had just heard a warning of a tornado.
The Fed did a big thing last night to help provide a cushion. And you will see most American banks becoming more transparent in their reports to provide more faith and confidence in the truth that there will not be a collapse and people can feel secure. We should remember when we envy the big bonus earners in some financial institutions that it is a business of peaks but also pot holes.
Confidence will return sooner or later but, in the meantime, let’s take a minute to feel for our friends at Bear Stearns and other investment banks like them, down the road, waiting for a tornado. The workers at Lehman Brothers have seen their stock reduced 40% and sliding—that is a big stomach ache for anyone who has everything tied up in the company he or she works for and has counted on.
One of the bankers I talked to said that, although he very much sympathized with the employees at failing financial companies, he had no mercy for some of the leaders, the heads of some of the investment banks and hedge funds and mutual funds that are in such trouble. He says many of them knew what they were doing and were, in effect, running gigantic schemes like Charles Ponzi’s by narrowly focusing on mortgage finance—suggesting it was worth more than it was. He said the big American banks that have large depository bases are trying to help the others—partly because they are worried about the reactions throughout the world to the United States which, politically, have been bad enough.
Some of the most admired hedge funds have major problems and have discovered that even strong political connections and banking connections are no help to them. As my friend said, “It’s a different ball game now. The old game is over.”
It is one thing to see all this on your computer or television screen or read it in the paper. It is another thing to know “T,” who has a lot of fairly worthless company stock he believed in.