Lehman Brothers’ Anniversary Preparations Include TV Dramas, Wine Accessories, Rampant Blame
It’s nearly a year since Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, toppling banking confidence and generally going on to cripple the spring in everyone’s noughties step. Everyone loves an anniversary, and so the occasion is getting marked not with candles, cakes and a tickertape parade down Wall Street, but lawsuits, dramatisations, golf tees and fingerpointing instead.
The most surprising bit of news to come out of the Lehman coals being raked over is in the Guardian today, who say that Hank Paulson is blaming Alastair Darling for not voicing his concerns sooner over letting the bank fail; the UK’s banking elite believed that after Barclays’ attempts to take over the bank failed, the US government would provide support. Whatever the reason, the decision to let it fail has, with 20-20 hindsight, being given an unequivocal thumbs down, the FSA’s Hector Sants calling it a “mistake”, deputy Bank of England governor John Gieve calling it a “catastrophic error”. But if you remember Paulson’s press conference just weeks later when he announced that the Treasury was bailing out AIG, and his disbelieving, shaken delivery of that news, it’s easy to see that for a man like him, the idea of state and business joining hands was simply unthinkable, and was never going to happen.
When it fell, some of the big assets got quickly snapped up, like its European and Asian trading unit, which was bought by Nomura after they conducted a ceremony to ward off evil spirits in the Canary Wharf building (there must still be some bad juju floating around, as they’ve since moved, rent-free, nearer to the City). But other assets, like Lehman Brothers pens, are still hanging around a warehouse somewhere like a bad smell. Lehman have set up an eBay store to get rid of all this tat, which includes endless golfing paraphanalia, silver plated babies’ rattles, wine accessories and baby romper suits. “Own a piece of history” runs the tagline. As well as this desperately small change, they’re also collating rather more valuable assets, like the uranium they own.
Maybe once they’ve sold all the leather paperweights they’ll have enough to pay off the potential $100bn they owe to over 100 different claimants, for any number of different services, trades and deals that were going on at the time of the bankruptcy. PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the administrator for the bank, is filing its claim in a couple of weeks, just over a year after the bank fell.
Also in a commemorative mood are the BBC. They’ve got Robert Peston currently filming in New York to mark the big day, radio play The Day That Lehman Died broadcasting tomorrow on the World Service, and glossy-looking The Last Days Of Lehman Brothers on BBC2, starring Corey Johnson as Dick Fuld and James Cromwell looking like he’s in full ball-crushing 24/LA Confidential mode as Hank Paulson. Expect lots of shakycam closeups of people sweating into phones intercut with placid brooding faces gazing out of reflective glass.
As for us, we’ll be marking the anniversary of the financial crisis in a few weeks in a very exciting way. Keep your eyes peeled for more news as Bad Idea steps up a gear…