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Why Bear Stearns Matters To All Of Us

Mar 31, 2008
It's tempting isn't it, to smirk at the recent Bear Stearns collapse: How the mighty have fallen. After all, the people running this company were not only bankers, but Wall Street investment bankers, and everyone knows they're too proud and too arrogant, right?

But, chances are, your mutual fund or pension fund may have had a stake in Bear Stearns and lost a packet of money when the company was sold to JP Morgan for a fraction of the value it had before the subprime mortgage issue began it.

That means your pension could be a bit smaller than would otherwise be the case. Or it might mean your pension fund has to increase the amount it deducts from your pay, to meet its targets.

For example, the Police and Fire Retirement System of the City of Detroit is concerned enough to have launched a lawsuit, aiming to stop the takeover by JP Morgan.

While I don't have a list of who has, and who hasn't invested in Bear Stearns, I suspect institutional investors (mostly pension funds, mutual funds, insurance companies investing shareholder premiums, and the like) are big holders.

Do a Google search for "Bear Stearns pensions" (without the quotation marks) and you'll get a sense of the concern felt among those who must bring in retirement income for working people.

Here's one example: It's the opening paragraph in a story by WAAY-TV in Huntsville, Alabama on March 17, 2008: "Alabama's pension system has 73,150 shares of Bear Stearns stock, which dropped dramatically in share value in recent days and is affected by the acquisition plans of JPMorgan Chase & Co."

To put that in more concrete terms, the stock had been worth as much as $170 a share last year, then it sold for $2 per share. So, multiply 73,150 shares by $168 dollars (the amount by which the shares plunged in value) equals $12,289,200. That's 12 and a quarter million fewer dollars available for current and future pensioners in Alabama .

So, the bad luck of the Wall Street bankers may be bad luck for you, too. That may hold even across borders; pension funds and mutual funds in other countries and on other continents may have invested in Bear Stearns as well. Almost all funds want exposure beyond their own borders, because diversity means more security and more consistent returns.

On the other hand, maybe your pension fund or mutual fund had money in JP Morgan, but not in Bear Stearns. In that case, you can congratulate yourself on apparently getting some new assets for perhaps pennies on the dollar. That could make your pension a bit bigger at no cost to you.

It's become a fact of life that working people and big businesses are connected at the hip by more than jobs. Corporations need money from pension funds and mutual funds to finance their expansions and other activities, while the funds need the profits of corporations to fund retirement incomes.

So, we're all capitalists now, and as the National Lampoon's take on Desiderata put it so cynically, ?"Go placidly
Amid the noise and waste.
And remember what comfort there may be
In owning a piece thereof."
(National Lampoon Radio Dinner, 1972)
About the Author
Discover how politics and national economies are being shaped by new connections among working people, corporate profits, and pensions at Robert Abbott's blog, People, Profits, & Pensions.
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