shares were free falling again in premarket trading Thursday, as the reeling investment bank failed to impress analysts the day before to shore up its balance sheet.
Goldman Sachs, Oppenheimer & Co., Banc of America Securities and Citigroup all downgraded Lehman Thursday morning, a day after the firm unveiled plans to sell a majority stake in its asset management business, spin off its commercial real-estate assets into a new publicly-traded company and cut its annual dividend to 5 cents a share from 68 cents.
"Management did not successfully put to rest the issues that had been pressuring the stock," Goldman analyst William Tanona wrote.
Lehman shares were down more than 40% to $4.26 before the open, signaling it was well on its way to a fourth straight day of losses. Since closing trading at $16.20 on Sept. 5, Lehman Brothers has shed 55% to close at $7.25 on Wednesday. Shares are off 89% from their 52-week high.
Fears that Lehman could suffer the fate of
-- which federal officials forced to sell itself at a cut rate $10 per share to
in March -- have been behind the selloff. Like Bear, Lehman's fortunes are strongly connected to the real estate and fixed income markets, which has been at the center of the current economic crisis.
Brad Hintz, analyst with Sanford Bernstein, believes those fears are significantly lessened by the fact that Lehman has the ability to borrow funds from the
, which Bear did not. The Fed gave investment banks the ability to borrow directly from the federal government at a discount in March, shortly after JPMorgan agreed to acquire Bear.
"We'd be talking about a whole different story if the Fed hadn't stepped in
to provide access to cheap funding for investment banks," says, "We'd all be holding our breath."
However, noted bearish economist Nouriel Roubini tells
the Fed could, and should limit Lehman's access to the discount window, allowing creditors to take a hit.
"At this point, Lehman is toast," he says.
As far as Lehman's plan goes, many questions remain for shareholders. On a conference call Wednesday morning to discuss its preannouncement of third quarter results, hastily convened on a day's notice to calm investor fears, analysts seemed frustrated in trying to understand important details.
Tanona, for example, excused himself for asking the same question an earlier analyst had posed about the investment management stake sale. "I just don't understand how you guys can sell 55% yet retain the vast majority of the pre-tax income," he said.
Lehman has not reached a deal to sell the stake yet, but says it is "in advanced discussions with a number of potential partners."
The real estate spinoff will also require extensive negotiations with ratings agencies, auditors and law firms, over issues such as how much equity Lehman needs to put into the new company, and whether its valuations of the real estate are appropriate, according to Hintz.
Given those uncertainties, he is not recommending Lehman's stock.
"Of course not," he says. "It's a great time to buy Lehman bonds, with the credit spreads wide. The stock is a whole different issue."