September 10, 2008 / 7:13 PM / 10 years ago

Washington Mutual tumbles 30 percent to 17-year low

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Washington Mutual Inc (WM.N) shares sank 30 percent to a 17-year low and the perceived risk of its debt soared on worries the largest U.S. savings and loan will not find a buyer or raise enough capital to combat soaring mortgage losses.

A woman walks into a Washington Mutual bank in New York, April 7, 2008. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

The stock closed down 98 cents at $2.32 on the New York Stock Exchange, and are down 44 percent in the last two days. It fell earlier to $2.30, the lowest since January 1991, according to Reuters data.

Analysts attributed the decline in part to anxiety that potential buyers might walk away because of a pending accounting rule requiring they value the assets of targets at market prices, and perhaps the need to raise capital.

They also pointed to Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc LEH.N, which said earlier on Wednesday it plans to sell a majority stake in its asset management unit and spin off commercial real estate, and posted a $3.93 billion quarterly loss. The shares of Lehman, Wall Street’s fourth-largest investment bank, fell 7 percent.

“Lehman failed to find anyone to invest capital. With Washington Mutual potentially needing some in the future, the market is taking the opportunity to punish that company,” said Jaime Peters, a banking analyst at Morningstar Inc in Chicago.

Washington Mutual did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Earlier this year, it raised $7.2 billion from investors, including private equity firm TPG Inc TPG.UL.

On Monday, the thrift ousted the longtime chief executive, Kerry Killinger, and replaced him with Alan Fishman, the former chief of Brooklyn, New York’s Independence Community Bank Corp.

Washington Mutual lost $3.33 billion in the second quarter, and said cumulative losses from subprime mortgages and other home loans could reach $19 billion through 2011. The thrift’s shares have fallen 93 percent in the last year.


It costs $4.3 million up front plus $500,000 annually to protect $10 million of Washington Mutual debt against default for five years, Phoenix Partners Group said on Wednesday. The up-front payment increased from $3.2 million on Tuesday.

Wednesday’s level suggests that investors see an 85 percent chance of default within five years, according to Tim Backshall, chief analyst at Credit Derivatives Research in Walnut Creek, California.

“The market’s shaking out who’s going to be able to survive over the next year, and this is just part of the shake out,” said Mirko Mikelic, portfolio manager for Fifth Third Asset Management in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

On Tuesday, Standard & Poor’s lowered its outlook to “negative” for its “BBB-minus” credit rating, which is one notch above “junk” status.

Washington Mutual this week announced an agreement with its chief U.S. regulator, the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS), requiring improved risk management and compliance. It said the agreement doesn’t require it to raise capital.

An OTS spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment. A Federal Deposit Insurance Corp spokesman said the agency does not comment on banks that are open and operating.

Morningstar’s Peters said a falling stock price complicates Fishman’s task to nurse Washington Mutual back to health.

“Fundamentally, nothing has changed at Washington Mutual since he was named CEO,” Peters said. “He already has a very difficult task ahead of him. His primary task is to stabilize loan losses, and keep capital at a level that makes regulators happy.”

Additional reporting by Herbert Lash and Phil Wahba in New York, and John Poirier in Washington, D.C.

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