About Those Companies Brought Down by Rumors . . .

Here’s a question I’m curious about:

We’ve heard from oh-so-many people how whisper campaigns have brought down so many firms like Bear Stearns (BSC) and Indy Mac (IMB) and Fannie (FNM) and Freddie (FRE) and now Lehman Brothers (LEH). 

Why is it that all these rumor-mongerers and shorts are only bringing some firms to their knees?  How come they always seem to be the over-leveraged, under-capitalized, unhedged, most poorly-managed companies? Isn’t it funny that all of the firms that are the subject of such rumors have so many similar characteristics? Bear and Lehman and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and AIG and . . .  the list goes on and on.

Why is it never the firms with strong balance sheets, good business models, making lots of profits? Why aren’t we terrified that these powerful shorts go after Intel (INTC) or Google (GOOG) or Apple (AAPL) or Berkshire (BRK) or GE or Exxon Mobil (XOM)?

Or is that merely a funny and unexplainable coincidence?

According to Jamie Dimon, a whispering campaign can bring down a firm. Vanity Fair blames shorts and CNBC. If that’s true, why not go short Bear AFTER it fell 100? Why not go after a really big firm, with lots of room on the downside to make even more money? Perhaps an alternative explanation is in order.

Yesterday’s pasting of Lehman (LEH) was based on a rumor that Pacific Investment Management Co. (aka PIMCO), manager of the world’s biggest bond fund, and SAC Capital, one of the world’s largest and most actively trading hedge fund, were backing away from the firm. Both came out and reaffirmed that they were still Lehman customers — but it had the feel to me of a manoeuvre, and not a true and full disclosure.

My best guess:  We are likely to find out what the full truth is some time from now. How much does anyone want to bet me that we will find out in a few quarters that each of these firms were cutting back a big chunk of their business with Lehman?

Any takers?


Psst! Hear the Rumor of the Day?
NYT, July 8, 2008   

Bringing Down Bear Stearns   
Vanity Fair, August 2008   

DealBook’s Andrew Ross Sorkin vs. DealBreaker’s John Carney   
NY Magazine, 7/ 9/08

Rumors, subpoenas and the pursuit of truth on Wall Street
Robert Teitelman
The Deal, July 8, 2008 at 11:07 AM


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Barry Ritholtz commented on Jul 11

    Or, are these BLAME IT ON THE RUMORS folks all

    1) full of crap
    2) talking their own books
    3) clueless


  2. dblwyo commented on Jul 11

    Gross’s interview on CNBC is well worth watching. Considering the knife-edge and legal problems he did a good job but was as careful as I’ve ever…ever heard him. As he should be. Not doing the interview might have been worse. My take – they’re trimming severely but certainly aren’t going to discuss details. Nor are they obliged to.

  3. Franklin Raines commented on Jul 11

    I don’t think there are any problems in the mortgage industry.

  4. Andy Tabbo commented on Jul 11


    I thought the exact same thing watching it. It was a slippery/lawyerly type of answer to the questions. I think they were forced to come out publicly for potential legal issues down the road. But, those were certainly carefully worded answers to some pretty simple questions.

    – AT

  5. Mike in NoLA commented on Jul 11

    I thought the brunette asked Gross a question worthy of a lawyer, to the effect that have you reduced your trades with Lehman in either duration or dollar amounts? He said no, not today and not in previous days. Sounds pretty ironclad to this amateur. Where is the wriggle room or space for Jesuitical fingercrossing behind the back?

    Of course, he might have just been lying.

  6. D. commented on Jul 11

    After living through a few bubbles, one thing I’ve witnessed is that there are two types of people: those in the know and the clueless. They are hard to tell apart because those in the know act clueless since it’s their defense when the fit hits the shan. The Teflon people.

  7. Mike in NoLA commented on Jul 11


    True. I guess I was being naive. I suppose Gross’s only obligation is to his shareholders and owners, so lying while saving their butts from Lehman’s millstone would probably not be actionable. In fact, it could be in their interest for him to lie to make it easier to disengage without taking a hit.

    And with the fawning and short memories of the CNBC crew, it wouldn’t necessarily even make him an unwelcome guest in the future. They might even admire him for it. (Gasparino excepted.)

  8. Greg0658 commented on Jul 11

    Is there a video frame border or someway of telling when a guest on CNBC has paid for the time on the screen?

  9. wally commented on Jul 11

    I’d guess that far more rumors are based on truth than are not. However, it is essential to deny until all the priveleged parties have bailed, or you won’t be invited to the next party on the yacht.

  10. sarge commented on Jul 11

    Funny how Dimon says that the rumor mongers should be put in jail and 5 minutes later during the Rose interview he says he knew Morgan was the only player at the table in the BS deal and, when asked by Rose how he knew this he says he ‘heard rumors’.

  11. mhm commented on Jul 11

    Rumors can very quickly accelerate or cause the bankruptcy of a financial company. If you can’t make good on your overnight repos you are done, in a day or two.

    There must be some truth to the rumors of course. You can walk to the other side of a highwire if nobody pushes you over.

  12. bb commented on Jul 11

    The rumors don’t take the companies under , the fundamentals do …

    but when you get an IM that states that SAC or Galleon is shorting 5M+ shares , what do you do ? ? ? or Fido or CalPers has 50M+ for sale ? ? ?

    you short …. it’s an easy game

    lighting the match ? no

    fanning the flames ? maybe

  13. Greg commented on Jul 11

    At what point are rumors considered fact? Wouldn’t you short a company if you knew it didn’t have money to pay it’s debts?

    I really think that guys like Dimon are so suprised that the industry they made so much cash in is falling apart. They are like buffett says standing naked as the tide goes out and they have to blame someone else.

    The government gave them a chance with the Glass-Steagall repeal and now the government is taking control back. Pretty ironic if you think about it.

  14. Steve Barry commented on Jul 11

    I expect Nasdaq to fall 5% within the next few days.

  15. Loren Steffy commented on Jul 11

    BizLinks and Open Comments | 7.11.08

    Houston has cheapest gas; prices up slightly in Texas Ex-EGL chief’s venture will compete with his old firm U.S. Weighs Takeover of Two Mortgage Giants About Those Companies Brought Down by Rumors . . .funny how they all seem…

  16. ECONOMISTA NON GRATA commented on Jul 11

    There are rational rumors and then there are irrational rumors. The rational and sane thing to do is not to do business with LEH and not to own their stock. Isn’t that what free markets are all about….? Speaking of which, how about those guys that provided the $6b capital to LEH at 28, they’re sitting pretty, aren’t they….? Do these people actually get paid a salary…? I mean really, who hired those morons….?

    That S&P 800 don’t look so crazy no more.

    Best regards,


  17. Stephen commented on Jul 11

    It’s ironic that the people who advocate putting complete faith in the marketplace are also the people who seem to think the market is so fragile that it can be taken down by a few bad headlinesrumors.

  18. ben commented on Jul 11

    Rumors… Please

    I guess then Vanity Fair and the like believe a rumor could take down Berkshire, I think not.

  19. me commented on Jul 11

    why would anyone believe or listen to Dimon? Is he really going to tell us schmucks what is really going on or is he just another predatory capitalist, lying to line his pockets?

    Rumors? Oil is up. Oil is down? Israel is going to attack Iran. Iran has missiles that reach Iraq. Condi Rice invents a treaty in mid-air, like most the Bush lying and says we will defend Israel. Israel starts a war and Condi will defend them??? Are they in Nato? Did the UN approve the action???

    Many a wise person on this board has said watch CNBC with the volume off.

    Rumors just make people aware of the bad fundamentals.

  20. Loren Steffy commented on Jul 11

    Whine on, you crazy Dimon

    APDimon: got any good gossip?So Phil Gramm thinks we’re all whiners and that those tighter family budgets are just a recession of the mind. We’re just making it up — the layoffs, the market decline, the tightening of credit. Just…

  21. Agoracom commented on Jul 11

    God help us if public companies can be brought to their news via rumors.

    The truth is that business is a dog-eat-dog world. The weak are eaten by the strong. Simple as that.

    I don’t think this is anything new to people of TBP. I’m just amazed that talking heads actually think we’re dumb enough to believe the rumor method of take downs.


  22. Agoracom commented on Jul 11

    Sorry. 1st line should have read

    “God help us if public companies can be bought to their KNEES via rumors.”

  23. ben commented on Jul 11

    Steve B,

    5% drop in the Nas is likely, July starts the worst 4 month cycle for the nasdaq. You are probably underestimating.

  24. Greg0658 commented on Jul 11

    like believe a rumor could take down Berkshire, I think not.
    Posted by: ben minutes ago

    hey lets try … have you seen all the mother nature destruction going on in the world, you know Berkshire is primarily an insurance company (and American dollar based) … you know you want your money in a forclosed property in a boom town tobe … now how long before he’s down the tubes?
    Posted by Greg0658 now

    Billy Ray Valentine: Hey! How’d y’all make out today?
    Mortimer Duke: How could you do this to us after everything we’ve done for you?
    Billy Ray Valentine: Oh, see, I made Louis a bet here. See, Louis bet me that we couldn’t both get rich and put y’all in the poor house at the same time. He didn’t think we could do it. I won.
    Louis Winthorpe III: [grinning] I lost… One dollar.
    Billy Ray Valentine: Thank you, Louis.
    Louis Winthorpe III: After you.
    Billy Ray Valentine: Certainly.
    posted by Trading Places 1983

  25. Bud commented on Jul 11

    What do you expect from Vanity Fair, a rumor/gossip magazine?

  26. Andy Tabbo commented on Jul 11

    Those LEH rumors of a $15/share take under were ‘optimistic’ rumors I guess….

    – AT

  27. shtove commented on Jul 13

    I’ll offer any bet, so long as it’s in Zimbabwe dollars.

Posted Under