Lehman's Collapse: Executives and Accountants Faulted

Includes: C, JPM, LEHMQ
by: John Lounsbury

An article by Francesco Guerrera, Nicole Bullock and Henny Sender at ft.com discusses a report by the court-appointed examiner Anton Valukas looking into the collapse of Lehman Brothers (OTC:LEHMQ) in September of 2008. The article says:

The hard-hitting report found evidence that Mr Fuld and Christopher O’Meara, Erin Callan and Ian Lowitt, who were chief financial officers of Lehman during its last days, failed to disclose the use of an accounting device that enabled the bank to hold $50bn off its balance sheet in both the first and second quarter of 2008.

Citigroup (NYSE:C) and JP Morgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) are also reported to have contributed to the collapse by pressuring Lehman for collateral in the final months.

The article also faults Lehman's accountants, Ernst & Young, for laxity.

Several of the parties named in the Valukas report have issued statements denying any wrongdoing.

My take away from this is the major difference between the accounting deceptions of Lehman and several other investment banks is most likely that Lehman got caught without government backing, while other manipulators got bailed out. I would be happy to be proven wrong if other firms were investigated as thoroughly and my presumption was found to be false.

I don't expect that either will happen; I expect there will not be other investigations and, if there are, I doubt that most other banks would be vindicated. The use of off-balance sheet SIVs (special investment vehicles) has been reported to have been widespread.

What is not clear to me today is whether the practice has been continued of hiding assets off-balance-sheet to reduce reserve requirements. This could still be a problem. In addition, questions remain about the mark to fantasy accounting rules that were reinstated in March, 2009, just in time to help fuel the miracle rally in stock markets, led by the financials.

Disclosure: No positions.