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JPMorgan completes takeover of Bear Stearns

NEW YORK (Reuters) - JPMorgan Chase & Co said on Saturday it completed its $1.4 billion Bear Stearns Cos takeover, capping the demise of a Wall Street firm that survived the Depression and numerous slumps in its 85 years but could not navigate the mortgage crisis.

People walk past the Bear Sterns building after JPMorgan Chase & Co said yesterday it was buying Bear Sterns for $2 a share in New York March 17, 2008. REUTERS/Chip East

Weakened by its massive exposure to mortgage markets and the embarrassing blow-up of two of its hedge funds, Bear was driven to the brink of bankruptcy in March by traders who

drained about $17 billion of the firm’s cash in a matter of days.

Federal officials, worried a Bear bankruptcy would drag the rest of the markets down with it, strong-armed the bank to accept JPMorgan’s $2-a-share offer, backed by a Federal Reserve bailout of $30 billion in Bear assets.

A week later JPMorgan raised its offer five-fold to 0.21753 of a share for each Bear share. Based on JPMorgan’s current market price of $43, that bid valued Bear at $9.35 a share, well below the $57 those shares fetched before traders began their run on Bear.

In exchange for the higher price, Bear had to sell a 39.9 percent stake to JPMorgan. Combined with other purchases, JPMorgan amassed a controlling 49.5 percent stake and effectively locked up Bear for good.

Since then, JPMorgan, which under CEO Jamie Dimon largely steered clear of credit losses that hobbled its rivals last year, has been sorting through Bear’s people and assets.

For a fire-sale price, JPMorgan will gain a new headquarters tower in Midtown Manhattan, some of Wall Street’s largest clearing, prime brokerage and energy trading arms.

Bear’s name will survive on Wall Street through its retail brokerage business, which Morgan is keeping.

The deal dealt a crushing blow to Bear employees, who collectively held 33 percent of the firm’s stock and saw billions of dollars in their personal wealth wiped out.

Only 6,500 staffers were offered jobs, casting about 7,000 analysts, bankers and traders into the streets at a time when the rest of Wall Street is shrinking.

JPMorgan now faces many significant and some unknown risks. Dimon disclosed this month that the cost of shedding Bear assets, litigation expenses and other merger-related costs would soar to $9 billion from an earlier rough guess of $6 billion.

As a result, JPMorgan expected to record a second-quarter gain of $1 billion, though it is expanding during a period that Dimon worries could be a prolonged recession.