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Lehman's Many Suitors


A number of buyers possible for investment firm.


Lehman Brothers (LEH), the fourth-largest US securities firm, has been pegged as a takeover target for months. All it lacks is suitors banging on the door and waving money.

But the Korea Development Bank may ride to the rescue.

A spokesman for the state-run bank told Reuters, "We are studying a number of options and are open to all possibilities, which could include Lehman."

Korea Development Bank had considered taking a 50% stake in Lehman, but the deal stalled over price, the Financial Times reported last week.

Despite the takeover chatter, Lehman's stock declined about 3.13% to $13.98 a share in early trading Monday. The 52-week range is $12.02 to $67.73.

Last week, Richard Bove, an analyst at Ladenburg Thalmann, said Lehman is a candidate for a hostile takeover.

"Management is unwilling to sell out at a deeply distressed value," Bove said in a research note to clients. "The stage is set for a hostile bid to take over the whole company."

If, as many have suggested, Lehman's asset management unit Neuberger Berman is worth $8 billion to $13 billion, then investors value Lehman at nearly zero despite its market value of $10 billion. This makes Lehman a good buying opportunity, Bove said.

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Bove raised his rating on Lehman's shares to "buy" from "neutral."

But the Wall Street Journal's Heidi Moore says hostile takeovers generally don't work in investment banking. Moreover, she says a hostile bid is unlikely when employees own a 30% stake or more in the company as they do in Lehman. said possible buyers for Lehman might include:

Overseas banks: Barclays (BCS) would be a good fit. However, Bob Diamond, president of the investment banking unit, said the British bank might be interested in snapping up a wealth management company, but not an investment bank.

UBS (UBS) has its own woes, and HSBC (HBC) and Deutsche Bank (DB) don't need a Wall Street acquisition. Major Japanese banks have been burned by their prior forays on Wall Street, and are thus more likely to consider commercial and regional banks.

Blackstone Group (BX): Honcho Steve Schwartzman is a former Lehman employee, sparking takeover speculation.

Lehman's Investment management unit would boost Blackstone efforts in the sector and help it diversify beyond buyout funds. Buying Lehman would instantly make Blackstone a major Wall Street firm.

But Schwartzman's decision to take Blackstone public and his interest in philanthropy suggest he's starting the next stage in his career; he may have no desire to take on Lehman and the volatility that comes with a large trading operation.

Lehman may languish, but you can bet the saga continues.

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