Bear Stearns CEO Says Liquidity Strong

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bear Stearns Cos BSC.N Chief Executive Alan Schwartz on Wednesday dismissed recurring speculation that the investment bank faces a cash crunch, saying it has hefty cash reserves that have remained little changed this year.

Schwartz, in a televised interview on CNBC, also said he is comfortable with the range of analysts’ earnings estimates for the fiscal first quarter ended Feb. 29. Results for the quarter are due next week.

“We don’t see any pressure on our liquidity, let alone a liquidity crisis,” he said.

Bear finished fiscal 2007 with $17 billion of cash sitting at the parent company level as a “liquidity cushion,” he said.

“That cushion has been virtually unchanged. We have $17 billion or so excess cash on the balance sheet,” he said.

Schwartz denied speculation that other brokers were turning down Bear’s credit on trades for fear of counter-party risk.

“There’s been a lot of volatility in the market, a lot of disruption. That’s causing some administrative pressure, getting trades settled. We’re in constant dialogue with all the major dealers, and I have not been made aware of anybody not taking our credit,” he said.

Bear’s stock has plunged in recent weeks, and the cost of insuring its debt against defaults has spiked, as mortgage and credit markets continue a slump that began a year ago.

As one of the largest players in mortgage-backed bond markets, investors have assumed Bear’s exposure would lead to crippling losses.

“None of that speculation is true,” Schwartz said. When speculation starts in a market, one that has a lot of emotion in it and people concerned with volatility, “they will sell first and ask questions later,” he said. “That creates its own momentum.”

Schwartz said the first quarter was a “difficult” period, but he said he was comfortable with analysts’ earnings estimates.

Wall Street forecasts range from 46 cents to $2.34 per share, according to Reuters Estimates. The average forecast is $1.07 a share, down 72 percent from a year earlier.

Bear shares were up $1.95 to $64.92 in morning trade on the New York Stock Exchange after rising as high as $67.82 earlier in the session.

Reporting by Joe Giannone; editing by John Wallace