Banks face "new world order," consolidation: report

NEW YORK Mon Mar 17, 2008 12:19pm EDT

A Bear Stearns sign is seen at its headquarters in New York March 14, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

A Bear Stearns sign is seen at its headquarters in New York March 14, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Financial firms face a "new world order" after a weekend fire sale of Bear Stearns and the Federal Reserve's first emergency weekend meeting since 1979, research firm CreditSights said in a report on Monday.

More industry consolidation and acquisitions may follow after JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) on Sunday said it was buying Bear Stearns BSC.N for $236 million, or $2 a share, a deep discount from the $30 price on Friday and record share price of about $172 last year.

"Last evening the Bear Stearns situation reached a crescendo, as JPMorgan agreed to acquire the wounded broker for a token amount of $2 per share," CreditSights said. "The reality check is that there are many challenged major banks, brokers, thrifts, finance/mortgage companies, and only a handful of bona fide strong U.S. banks."

CreditSights said it lowered its broker, bank and finance company recommendations to "market weight" due to the credit crisis and stresses in the market.

In the event of future consolidation, potential acquirers identified by CreditSights include JPMorganChase, Wells Fargo, US Bancorp, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America (BAC.N), once it works through its recent agreement to acquire Countrywide Financial Corp, CFC.N the largest U.S. mortgage lender.

Possible foreign bank acquirers include HSBC, Barclays and Canadian firms, said CreditSights, which said the Bear Stearns deal should be good for bondholders.

"The debt side whether at the parent level or on the broker/dealer levels seems to be in rather good shape with the capital structure to be assumed by JPMorgan at deal close," which is expected in about 90 days, CreditSights said.

Financial stocks are likely to trade lower but the overall market may begin to stabilize, according to Morgan Stanley's chief U.S. credit analyst.

"I view the stabilization of Bear Stearns coupled with the liquidity action by the Fed as constructive for the proper functioning of the lending system," said Gregory Peters, chief U.S. credit analyst at Morgan Stanley. "Financial stocks will trade lower, but these are important steps in the path of trying to stabilize the credit markets."

Global stocks fell sharply on Monday, and U.S financial stocks tumbled in early trading, led by a 86 percent slump in Bear Stearns. Lehman Brothers LEH.N shares sank more than 35 percent.

Financial share prices could fall further by as much as 50 percent, Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Meredith Whitney said.

"As we believe we will begin to see goodwill write downs during the first half of this year, we believe investors will focus more on tangible book value and stocks will quickly revalue to far lower levels," Whitney wrote in a note to clients.

(Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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