NEW YORK — A failed plan to rescue Lehman Brothers was followed Sunday by more seismic shocks from Wall Street, including an apparent government-brokered takeover of Merrill Lynch by the Bank of America.
A forced restructuring of the world's largest insurance company, American International Group Inc., also weighed heavily on global markets as the effects of the 14-month-old credit crisis intensified.
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A global consortium of banks, working with government officials in New York, announced late Sunday a $70 billion pool of funds to lend to troubled financial companies. The aim, according to participants who spoke to The Associated Press, was to prevent a worldwide panic on stock and other financial exchanges.
Ten banks — Bank of America, Barclays, Citibank, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and UBS — each agreed to provide $7 billion "to help enhance liquidity and mitigate the unprecedented volatility and other challenges affecting global equity and debt markets."
The Federal Reserve also chipped in with more largesse in its emergency lending program for investment banks. The central bank announced late Sunday that it was broadening the types of collateral that financial institutions can use to obtain loans from the Fed.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said the discussions had been aimed at identifying "potential market vulnerabilities in the wake of an unwinding of a major financial institution and to consider appropriate official sector and private sector responses."
Futures pegged to the Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 300 points in electronic trading Sunday evening, pointing to a sharply lower open for the blue chip index Monday morning. Asian stock markets also were falling.
Lehman Brothers may be forced to seek an orderly unwinding of its businesses. All potential buyers walked away after the U.S. Treasury refused to budge on its refusal to provide any takeover aid, as it had done six months ago when Bear Stearns faltered and earlier this month when it seized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Expectations that the 158-year-old Lehman would survive dimmed after Barclays PLC withdrew its bid to buy the investment bank. Barclays and Bank of America were considered front-runners to buy Lehman, which is foundering under the weight of $60 billion in soured real estate holdings.
Insurer AIG, hit hard by deterioration in the credit markets, said Sunday it is reviewing its operations and discussing possible options with outside parties to improve its business after a week when its stock dropped 45 percent amid concerns about the company's financial underpinnings. It was working with New York Insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo and a representative of the governor's office through the weekend to craft a solution that protects policyholders, according to Dinallo's spokesman David Neustadt.
Merrill Lynch, another investment bank laid low by the crisis that was triggered by rising mortgage defaults and plunging home values in the United States, agreed to be acquired by Bank of America for $29 a share, according to the Wall Street Journal. That's a premium to its closing price on Friday of $17.05 but only a fraction of its price of almost $100 a share early in 2007.
Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America has the most deposits of any U.S. bank, while Merrill Lynch is the world's largest brokerage. A combination of the two would create a global financial giant to rival Citigroup Inc., the biggest U.S. bank in terms of assets.
The deal would not come without risks, however. Merrill Lynch, like many of its Wall Street peers, has been struggling with tight credit markets and billions of dollars in assets tied to mortgages that have plunged in value. Merrill has reported four straight quarterly losses.
And Bank of America's own finances are far from robust. As consumer credit deteriorates, the bank has seen its profits decline, and the company is still in the midst of absorbing the embattled mortgage lender Countrywide Financial, which it acquired in January.
The stunning weekend developments took place as voters, who rank the economy as their top concern, prepare to elect a new president in seven weeks.
The weekend's developments will likely spur a much greater focus by presidential candidates — Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama — and members of Congress on the need for stricter financial regulation.
Samuel Hayes, finance professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, said the current administration may get a lot of blame for the situation, which could benefit Obama.
"Just the psychological impact of this kind of failure is going to be significant," he said. "It will color people's feelings about their well-being and the integrity of the financial system."
Paulson was huddled through the weekend at the New York Federal Reserve's fortress-like building in downtown Manhattan with executives from major banks and investment houses to hash out the fate of Lehman Brothers and to staunch the bleeding on Wall Street that threatened to shatter investor confidence around the globe.
"It's clear we're one step away from a financial meltdown," said Nouriel Roubini, chairman of the consulting firm RGE Monitor.