We've known for most of the day that Lehman Brother has been actively shopping itself in a desperate attempt to avoid catastrophe. Now names of potential buyers are starting to come in. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Bank of America is in talks with Lehman.
Perhaps most interesting is the Journal's reporting on who isn't participating. Up until just a few minutes ago we were hearing rumors that HSBC could put in a bid over night, despite earlier denials from the bank. Now the Journal says no bid is expected from HSBC. Others who aren't "expected to participate" include Goldman Sachs, France's BNP Paribas, Germany's Deutsche Bank, and Spain's Banco Santander. Barclays is a maybe.
While Lehman is looking for buyers, the potential buyers are looking for Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke. Pressure is mounting on the government to become involved, as the Journal story makes clear.
But potential buyers remain wary about plugging holes in Lehman's balance sheet, and are increasingly looking to the U.S. government to help backstop future losses, according to people familiar with the talks.
A number of these buyers would "come out of the woodwork," if the U.S. were to step in, said one person monitoring the process. It remains unclear whether the U.S. Treasury or Federal Reserve would take such steps, as was done when the government assisted J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. in its Bear Stearns takeover in March.
Any government involvement would likely require an under-market price for shareholders. When the Fed and Treasury helped JP Morgan Chase buy Bear Stearns, the price of the stock was reduced from around $30 a share to $2 a share. A similar haircut for Lehman from recent market prices could result in a take-under priced at less than a dollar.
Lehman Brothers in Sales Talks; B of A Seen As a Potential Suitor [Wall Street Journal]