Bear Stearns'


chairman and chief executive, James Cayne, declined to rule out a possible sale of the Wall Street firm Wednesday, although he said nothing to suggest a deal was imminent.

"Everything is for sale," said Cayne, in response to an analyst question on whether the firm would entertain a takeover. Cayne spoke during an investor conference.

But Bear's 70-year-old top executive didn't indicate that anything was on the horizon. He also said the decision to sell the firm wasn't his alone.

"It's not a monarchy," said Cayne, who has been with Bear for nearly four decades. "We are very content with our position."

Last year, Bear was one of the top-performing stocks in the brokerage sector, rising about 30%. The surge in the latter half of 2004 was fueled in part by persistent but unsubstantiated reports that European banks might be interested in acquiring Bear.

The rise in Bear's stock helped reduce some of the historic valuation gap between the firm and its bigger Wall Street competitors, such as

Goldman Sachs

(GS) - Get Report


Merrill Lynch


. On the basis of earnings for the past 12 months, shares of Bear trade at a P/E ratio of 10, just slightly below the multiple awarded by the market to shares of Goldman, Merrill,

Lehman Brothers



Morgan Stanley



Cayne said he's glad Bear was able to close the valuation gap with its peers last year. But he added that he's never been one to "hawk the stock."

Of course, some might disagree. In July 2000, when Bear's shares were selling for around $48, Cayne told an analyst that he'd be willing to sell the firm for $120 a share.

Last year, Bear came close to Cayne's $120 price tag, peaking at $106 in December. It's fallen off some since then. On Wednesday, the stock closed at $96.84.