Bear Stearns was founded in 1923, but although Paula Daly’s Mouse to Minx sells vintage fashion of that era, quite probably when the 85-year-old bank went under on 6th March 2008, Paula Daly didn’t notice – between running her own small business and being a successful self-employed communications and marketing consultant, she says “Life was exhausting, and not without its stresses, but good.”
But in the US the collapse of Bear Stearns is seen as the beginning of the financial crisis of 2008, while in the UK, we date it from the collapse of Northern Rock, three weeks earlier. Both Northern Rock and Bear Stearns had become heavily involved in the sub-prime mortgages: Northern Rock’s business plan was to borrow heavily, extend mortgages based on the loans, and then re-sell these mortgages on international capital markets. This is known as “securitisation”.
Who got the idea for this risky business? In the UK, John Ritblat, former British Land chairman (described as “a charming old rogue, a bit of an old-fashioned spiv” by someone who likes him)
takes much of the credit for the revolution in property financing that has occurred over the past two decades. The industry used to be financed with fixed-rate borrowings secured on the property portfolio, but he pioneered techniques like securitisation of assets which, he believes, has transformed the industry into one financed by long-term, unsecured, borrowings. (The Observer, Sunday 16 July 2006)
Ritblat retired just over a year before August 2007, when Northern Rock first began to feel the chill. A self-confessed workaholic, he evidently knew the right time to retire from the “securitisation” business he pioneered – with an estimated net worth of £100m.
Once the fifth-largest investment bank in the United States, Bear Stearns collapsed in March 2008 under the weight of toxic hedge fund accounts backed heavily by subprime mortgages. The company was quickly sold to J.P. MorganChase (another financial giant and OpenSecrets.org Heavy Hitter) but the bank’s spectacular fall — and the federal government’s failure to stop it — is now seen as the first wave of the epic financial meltdown that created the global recession of 2008 and 2009. (Open Secrets)