Did Morgan Stanley (MS) come precariously close to a 2008 moment in recent weeks?
Morgan Stanley executives say the firm is in far better shape than it was three years ago when it needed government bailout money to survive. But that didn’t stop chief executive James Gorman from taking the unusual step yesterday of calling analysts to quash an ugly rumor that Morgan faced huge losses because of its massive exposure to faltering European banks. He then ordered his traders to buy the firm’s own debt in the market to underscore the firm’s financial strength, the FOX Business Network has learned.
The result: Shares of Morgan Stanley rebounded from its lows Thursday, and is trading up more than 4% so far today, and Gorman is breathing a sigh of relief.
“Back in 2008, it was possible to break a bank by spreading rumors,” analyst Dick Bove said. “But this isn’t 2008 and it didn’t succeed.”
Analysts and investors say the big Wall Street firm and most of the US banks are in far better financial shape than they were during the financial crisis three years ago, when Morgan, like the rest of Wall Street, required capital from foreign banks and bailout money from the US government to survive because of their exposure to toxic debt tied to the housing market.
But the European banking crisis has ignited investor fears that US banks are exposed to toxic debt tied to faltering French and other European banks, sparking a wave of panic selling. Morgan has been among the hardest hit, with shares falling to their lowest level since the financial crisis yesterday to around $12.
With that, Gorman started to scramble, making Bove one of his first calls.
The CEO told Bove that Morgan’s “net exposure” to French banks was “zero.” Gorman also said that while there may be a “run on the stock,” there is no “run on the bank” at Morgan Stanley, as there was in 2008, with large investors yanking money out of the firm’s prime brokerage accounts because they were afraid it might not survive.
He confirmed that the firm was in the market buying its own debt to show skittish investors that it had enough cash and liquidity to survive not just the European banking crisis, but the rumors of its own pending demise, which began with a blog posting.
“I called up Bove and said, ‘You’re a smart guy, here are the facts,’” Gorman told the FOX Business Network.
Gorman did the same with Merrill Lynch analyst Guy Moszkowski, and the result was two positive analyst reports and Morgan’s shares rebounding today.