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How much sympathy should we have for Lehman Brothers?

ADMIN USE ONLY | 12:35 UK time, Monday, 15 September 2008

Wall Street is reeling and the markets there haven't even opened yet. But the FTSE 100 index of leading UK shares has already tumbled by more than five per cent.

The news overnight that Lehman Brothers is filing for bankruptcy protection, Merrill Lynch is being taken over by the Bank of America, and that the insurer AIG is also in trouble, leaves Wall St wobbly to say the least. Only weeks after the US financial authorities bailed out mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, it has made clear that a line has been drawn and that no help will be forthcoming for Lehman Brothers.

Tonight Newsnight will have the latest from Wall Street - our economics editor Paul Mason is there and has written a fascinating analysis on his blog which you can read here.

We'll be asking how much sympathy we should have for the unfortunate investment bank.

How and when will the ripples of this latest chapter in the global credit crisis be felt over here? And how much worse can things get?

As ever you can comment throughout the day here - and get the latest word from Wall Street via Paul Mason's blog.


  • Comment number 1.

    Sympathy... for a Bank? And how many banks have destroyed peoples lives through foreclosures, bank charges and
    ridiculous rates for loans and mortgages. Fortunately this bank won't be the last to fail and some in the UK are looking very weak. Look at the various financial statements either coming out or being delayed. One must remember however that a similar situation occurred in the 1930's when banks then were also regarded as Pariahs. What happened then. As for the Tax payers bailing them out, I don't think so.

  • Comment number 2.

    This folks is the Karma for GREED and for screwing the little people who can't fight back. It is the TILT on the lottery / craps table of modern capitalism. It is the ultimate resting place of venal greed. I remortgaged before the place went to hell and I was asked to state the value of my home. It could have been anything as there were no checks at all. Nothing. So the only thing I have to tell you is that you STILL ain't seen nothing yet because the USA is bankrupt which is why the M3 figures are never given. You can get all the credit you want but it is backed by nothing. BUY GOLD NOW - REPEAT BUY GOLD NOW.

  • Comment number 3.

    What happened to all the money from the big bonuses that these jerks were paying themselves or has that gone into a black hole too?

  • Comment number 4.

    The bankers thought that they could walk on water. Now they know they can’t.

    No public money should be used to help banks that are in trouble because of their greed and stupidity. If public money is used to save banks from bankruptcy, then all businesses should be helped when they face bankruptcy.

    The US and UK Governments preach other countries on the virtues of the free market. Then the market should sort the banks out. The US and UK Governments should practice what they preach to others.

    I think greed, stupidity, speculation and get-rich-quick mentality are the hallmarks of the recent economic bubble.

    As Warren Buffett said, only when the tide goes out do you discover who has been swimming naked.

    I think we will see all those who have been swimming naked in the next few months.

  • Comment number 5.

    I am from Malaysia. As the Americans would say this is an insignificant backward country. But backward we are not. In fact we are so advanced that some visitors to this country were surprised to know that we had the tallest building in the world - The Twin Towers.

    Coming to the purpose of posting this comment : I really cannot understand how the economy of the USA can withstand the trade deficits of billions and billions of dollcars each month (something like 50 billion dollars a month - I do not even know how to write in figures 50 billions).

    Perhaps someone would enlighten my backward brain. Print more money?

  • Comment number 6.

    they were making money from nothing. [unsecured loans]. People say they were worth x billions but actually the only assets they 'owned' were the computers and pens on the desks [if that]. Which is how they can lose 93% of their 'value'.


    the basic mathematics is not difficult to work out but its not made public to prevent panic from a public who might not understand it and make things worse.

    the best way to understand it is to open say a demo forex or similar account and find out why 80% of people lose money. Then ask yourself would i give trillions in unsecured loans to people playing a market where 80% of people lose? You might if you knew the public would have to bail you out?

  • Comment number 7.

    The greed of the few is now being translated into the misery of the many

    These crooks, charlatans and fraudsters who have been engaging in legalised robbery and who have displayed such incompetence require to be rounded up from their yachts in the Bahamas and put behind bars

    How about a 95% tax on their ill gotten gains?

    If the populace were not so economic illiterate there would be a revolution

    Absolutely no sympathy at all

    Self regulation is a farce


  • Comment number 8.

    The USA is bankrupt and this will have a blindingly obvious effect on the UK. Spin City is full of money men like Gordon Brown. You cannot borrow against assets you do not have. The Silent Kingdom told you this in 2001. The best bet is to invest in Gold. SOLID GOLD! ANYTHING ELSE IS NOT WORTH THE PAPER IT IS WRITTEN ON.



  • Comment number 9.

    It may seem a bit obvious to point it out but the current turmoil in the financial world is not a natural phenomenon like a hurricane, but entirely mad made. Let me be a bit more specific – the responsibility for the mess - be it at Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae lies fairly and squarely with the senior executives of these businesses. And these executives have not only culpably mismanaged the affairs of their companies they have deceived the public along the way.

    This is what Fannie Mae (still) says on their website about their corporate responsibility “Fannie Mae provides stability, liquidity, and affordability to the nation's housing finance system under all economic conditions.” How about the bankrupt Lehman Bothers? This is the garbage that they have been flogging us: “Lehman Brothers, an innovator in global finance, serves the financial needs of corporations, governments and municipalities, institutional clients, and high net worth individuals worldwide.”

    Stability? Liquidity? Innovation? Serving needs? Don’t make me laugh! The needs that the high-priced-help at these and the other parasitical and arrogant Wall Street “institutions” have been serving have been their own needs. It is a fact that the indefensible reward systems that the executives of these snake oil selling firms have created for themselves have been at a time coincidental with the period of their greatest irresponsibility. In 2006 Lehman Brothers paid their staff an average of $335,441 each. Yep, that’s the average. Lehman Brothers then Chairman and Chief Executive Richard Fuld Jr. received a nice little $13.75 million cash bonus for his work in 2005. And what was the justification for all this. Risk. Not risks for them, of course, they were fireproofed by their earlier gluttonous receipts. But risks in the market place. Because to push your head a bit above the parapet and earn an even bigger bonus you need to take a bit more risk than the next man - or the next investment bank.

    The executives who got us all in the unholy mess in which we now wallow never played with their own money – they didn’t need to. They mismanaged (as it turned out) not because there was a bias for probity and caution but because there were rewards for those prepared to gamble. It was never the gambling directors who suffered (and nor is it now) it was, and is, the other “dumb” stakeholders; the Pension Finds, the individual investors who bought the lines of the men in the smarter suits – the suckers who could least afford to lose.

    And as summer on The Hamptons draws to a close I wonder how many of the City slickers resting there, the modern day Sherman McCoys, feel that their individual vanities are at risk of being bonfired? Or that they ought to be wrestling with their consciences. Not many I guess.

  • Comment number 10.

    Sympathy for those workers who were not receiving the ridiculous bonus payments that made outside observers, like me, question how long that sort nonsense could go on for!

  • Comment number 11.

    To: raymondtan

    I do not think just by having one of the tallest buildings in the world can make a country advanced.

    Large US trade deficits benefit countries like China, Malaysia, Singapore and others, because of the large imports by the USA.

    The US economic slowdown will hurt all the Asian countries.

  • Comment number 12.

    Interesting that Bank of America and Barclays should have been the potential knights in shining armour. And where, pray, did they get their hands on the required billions? That's right - us. And now the banks want our sympathy? Get outta here!

  • Comment number 13.

    It is not so much a crticism of Lehman but I have not heard a straight forward explanation as to how all of these banks have fallen foul of the American mortgage system. With all of the trouble it has caused. To the ordinary man in the street, it would appear that every American has renagued on his loan. How else could all of these banks have lost billions, not millions, but billions. This is just not possible. I know all of the technical explanations that have been put forward by the so called experts, but where has all of the money gone, who has it and why. Does this mean that all of the welchers have got away with it. I am utterly confused.

  • Comment number 14.


    Sympathy or immunity? 1) Watch the first part of this and then look closely at 2) this from Nov 2007 bearing in mind the demographics (#5) of the financial capital of the USA and all of the sanctimonious talk one has heard in recent decades about equality, anti-racism, de-regulation and... record levels of immigration into the USA (and the EU).

    Ask why.... well, just look at the map od Cleveland in the BBC article above (2). So long as one makes out that all groups are equal in cognitive ability, one can get away with all sorts of economic exploitation by asserting that sub-prime clients must know what they're getting themselves into, after all, they're not stupid, and all they have to do is read the small print... except...

    Now look at the verbal IQ differential by ethnic group, who is at the top and who is at the bottom? Where is the sub-prime market targetted and where did the benefits go? Why were/are such psychometrics deemed so taboo (politically incorrect) do you think? They'd be bad for business for some would they not?

  • Comment number 15.

    Less to do with banking than posters but:

    On the Searchlight magazine website you can read all kinds of things.

    "...we explain why the BNP are the same old nazis they always were. We broadcast a video, shot only four years ago, which shows leading BNP officials singing racist songs and giving a Nazi salute. We reveal the nazi and terrorist links of the BNP leadership and we explain, in the "Us and Them" section, just why the BNP does not stand in the great British tradition of tolerance, equality and compassion.

    In a new section, we also reveal the nazi links of BNP leader Nick Griffin.

    The BNP is dedicated to imposing apartheid-style rule in Britain. It wants to create a system that is based on the nonsense that white people are superior to all others. Black and Asian people would become second-class citizens under the law. ".

    I like Searchlight.

  • Comment number 16.

    When "foolishly" the Markets were "De-Regulated in the 1990s this trouble has been getting bigger and bigger.The (Greed
    is Good) mentality has ruled and this was it's guiding principle.The hypocracy of these
    Bankers is utterly staggering,where they spout "Private Profit" but "Public Loss".The
    four (in the United Kingdom high street Banks) are not is this mess simply because they are managed proper,and do not reward undehand deals.These Merchant Banks "DESERVE" to go to the Wall,they have long ago thrown away any decency or
    well percieved methods.I know things will
    get very very hard for a time,but with the Stock Market being at least one third over-
    -valued this debacle might bring a level which we can all work from,A neighbour of mine took out a very small loan for a Kitchen
    extension which cost only £ 35oo pounds.
    The first loan company went belly up,then
    the one which bought the debt of the first
    went belly up,now she is on to her "third"
    loan company and the debt has shot up to
    £ 19-500 pound all from the initail £3500 and she had never missed a payment.Those
    with big Mortgages watch out.I feel very sorry for you.

  • Comment number 17.

    Absolutely none. Bankers are the very root of the problem. I hope they all slide into oblivion so we can start again.

    The only way forward is for America to shut down the Federal Reserve System.

    An economy built on debt is a false economy.

  • Comment number 18.

    How much sympathy should we have?



  • Comment number 19.

    Whether money's devils or passionate workers- we should have sympathy. At least for the bankers' dependant families. The higher the climb, the greater the fall.

  • Comment number 20.

    I do not have a lot of sympathy for Lehmans but I am not sure that it was their fault that they went down the toilet. Furthermore the fact that the American government let them go down the toilet seems to have been one root cause of the panic that has seized world financial markets worldwide and that is something that we shall all rue for some time to come. I hope all the people who think it funny that lehman's went down the plughole keep their own jobs in the unpleasant period ahead.


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