According to the March 11, 2010 bankruptcy examiner’s report, the collapse of Lehman Brothers was a result of the deteriorating economic climate, exacerbated by Lehman’s executives, whose conduct ranged from "serious but non-culpable errors of business judgment to actionable balance sheet manipulation."
The Report was prepared pursuant to a January 2009 bankruptcy court order directing the trustee to appoint an examiner to investigate the events leading up to Lehman’s collapse. The examiner appointed was Anton Valukas of the Jenner & Block law firm.
The full report is nine volumes long, consisting of 2,200 pages, and can be found here. The executive summary (which alone is 239 pages long) can be found here. According to news reports, Valukas spent $38 million conducting his examination. He and his team interviewed more than 100 people and scrutinized more than 10 million documents, plus 20 million pages of e-mails from Lehman.
The examiner’s report states that as conditions worsened during 2008 and in order to "buy itself time," Lehman "painted a misleading picture of its financial condition." For example, the report states, that while reporting a significant loss at the end of the second quarter 2008, Lehman "sought to cushion the bad news by trumpeting that it had significantly reduced its net leverage ratio," while failing to disclose that it had been using an "accounting device" – known as Repo 105 – that had "no substance" and whose sole purpose was to allow Lehman to "manage its balance sheet."
The report states that Lehman neither disclosed its use of nor "the significance of the use of the magnitude of its use of" Repo 105, to the Government, to rating agencies, to investors or even to its own Board. Its auditors were aware of but did not question the transaction. The Repo 105 balance sheet manipulation is summarized on the WSJ.com Deal Journal blog, here.
The examiner concluded that the business decisions that brought Lehman to a crisis "may have been in error but were largely within the business judgment rule." However, the "decision not to disclose the effects of these judgments does give rise to colorable claims against the senior officers who oversaw and certified misleading financial statements," including CEO Richard Fuld and the company’s CFOs, Christopher O’Meara, Erin Callan and Ian Lowitt.
The examiner also found that there is a "colorable claim that the "sole function" of the Repo 105 transactions was "balance sheet manipulation" that "created a misleading picture of Lehman’s true financial health."
The examiner also concluded that there are "colorable claims" against the company’s auditor, Ernst & Young, on the grounds that it "did not meet professional standards" for its "failure to question and challenge improper or inadequate as disclosures."
The examiner’s report explains that the report uses the phrase a "colorable claim" to mean one for which "there is sufficient credible evidence to support a finding by a trier of fact," without presuming the finder of fact’s ultimate conclusion.
The examiner also reviewed the actions of Lehman’s lenders, JP Morgan and Citigroup. The report concludes that "The demands for collateral by Lehman’s lenders had direct impact on Lehman’s liquidity pool," adding that "Lehman’s available liquidity is central to the question of why Lehman failed." Citigroup, which handled currency trades for Lehman, received a new guarantee from Lehman when Lehman was already insolvent and didn’t give enough value in return, the report said. The report concludes that "a colorable claim exists to avoid the Amended Guaranty as constructively fraudulent."
The examiner also reviewed the acquisition of Lehman’s North American brokerage, concluding that "a limited amount of assets" belonging to Lehman were "improperly transferred to Barclays."
The examiner recites at the outset of the report that under the relevant bankruptcy code provisions one purpose of a bankruptcy examination is to determine the existence of "a cause of action for the estate." Given the bankruptcy examiner’s conclusion that there are colorable claims against Fuld and the other former Lehman’s officials, as well as against its outside auditor, it seems reasonable to anticipate that the next step with be the bankruptcy trustee’s initiation of claims against these individuals and the auditor.
By way of comparison, after the New Century Financial bankruptcy examiner issued a report issued a report critical of company officials and the company’s auditor (about which refer here), the bankruptcy trustee filed a lawsuit (refer here) seeking to hold New Century’s auditors liable. In addition, the claimants in the New Century securities class action lawsuit relied heavily on the Examiner’s findings in their amended complaint, which later suvived a motion to dismiss. I noted at the time of the dimissal that the bankruptcy examiner’s findings may have strongly influenced the court in its dismissal motion ruling.
General Growth Properties Settles Credit Crisis-Related Securities Suit: According to a February 23, 2010 filing in the Northern District of Illinois, the parties to the credit crisis-related securities suit arising out of the collapse of General Growth Properties has been settled for $15.5 million, subject to court approval. The parties’ stipulation of settlement can be found here.
The General Growth Properties suit was one of the cases first filed in late 2008 as the subprime meltdown morphed into a full blown credit crisis, as I discussed in a post at the time, here.
The lead complaint, which can be found here, was filed in January 2009. The plaintiffs alleged that General Growth’s survival depended on its ability to refinance in November 2008 approximately $1.5 billion of its $27 billion of outstanding debt. Ultimately the company was unable to refinance its debt and it filed for bankruptcy in April 2009. The plaintiffs essentially alleged that the eleven individual defendants misrepresented the company’s ability to refinance its debt.
The complaint also alleged that the company’s senior executives had improperly loaned money to certain executives so that the executives did not have to sell their company shares in a margin call. The companies also allege that the company’s officials improperly sought to have the company’s shares included in the SEC’s short selling ban, so that the officials could sell their share at inflated prices.
In a September 29, 2009 opinion (here), Northern District of Illinois Milton Shadur granted in part and denied in part the defendants’ motion to dismiss. According to the settlement stipulation, in January 2010, the parties submitted the case to mediation, from which the settlement ultimately resulted.
The General Growth suit is one of only a handful of cases filed in the wake of the subprime meltdown and the ensuing credit crisis that has reached the settlement stage, and one of only a smaller handful of cases that have been settled following a dismissal motion ruling. We undoubtedly will see more settlements ahead as more cases work their way through the system.
I have in any event added the General Growth Properties settlement to my list of subprime and credit crisis-related case resolutions, which can be accessed here. My recent status update on the subprime and credit crisis related securities litigation can be found here.
Special thanks to Adam Savett of the Securities Litigation Watch blog for providing me with a copy of the stipulation of settlement.
Hello Polly: Many readers undoubtedly saw the article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (here) reporting that the Bank of America has apologized after its local contractor entered the home of a mortgage borrower, while she was away, and cutoff her utilities, padlocked the door and "confiscated her pet parrot, Luke." The homeowner, separated from her parrot for a week, filed a lawsuit against the bank for emotional distress.
This momentous story was deemed by the Journal’s editors to be worthy of a front page photograph of the homeowner, now fortunately reunited with her beloved parrot.
We mention this because, as was pointed out to us by a loyal reader, the Journal’s front page above- the- fold color photograph was headlined with the phrase "Hello, I Wish to Register a Complaint." We suspect that the Journal’s editors ran the picture on the front page for the sole reason that it gave them an excuse to use that headline.
If the topic is parrots, the only possible reference is to the immortal Monty Python dead parrot sketch, which believe it or not has its own Wikipedia page, here. The skit begins with John Cleese entering a pet shop and stating (as reflected in this script of the sketch) "Hello, I wish to register a complaint." Cleese’s problem in the sketch is not that his parrot has been confiscated; rather, his problem is that the parrot he had just purchased is dead. Deceased. It is no more. It has ceased to exist. It has joined the choir celestial. This is an ex-parrot
We are delighted to have this pretext to be able to embed a video of the sketch below. Because we think everyone should know a dead parrot when they see one.