Following is an update on the High Stakes Poker Game involving Lehman (LEH), Merrill Lynch (MER), J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM), Goldman Sachs (GS), Citigroup (C), Bank of America (BAC), Barclays, and others.

Please consider Lehman to be the pot. Lehman is not a player, Lehman is being played for. The other players around the table are deciding how much that pot is worth.

The Fed, the Treasury, and the SEC are acting as the dealer (or if you prefer the carnival barker). The role of the carnival barker is to get the amount bet as high as possible. The preferred scenario was to goad Barclays and the Bank of America to go “all in”.

The problem with the “all in” scenario is there is a “side pot” to consider (i.e. the bad bank). In this case the “side pot” has negative value. The other players at the table would have to fund the bad bank while not sharing in the main pot.

Furthermore, only Bank of America and Barclays have enough chips to bet on the Lehman main pot, but they are reluctant to do so unless the value of that pot is guaranteed by the dealer.

The dealer, however is adamant that it will not have a stake in either the main pot or the side pot. This topic was discussed in detail in Paulson’s Claim Of “No Government Sponsorship” Reviewed.

Lehman Heads Toward Brink As Players Refuse To Bet Chips

Now that we have identified the players let’s look at the current state of the game as described by the New York Times in Lehman Heads Toward Brink as Barclays Ends Talks.

Unable to find a savior, the troubled investment bank Lehman Brothers appeared headed toward liquidation on Sunday, in what would be one of the biggest failures in Wall Street history.

But Barclays, considered the leading contender to buy all or part of Lehman, said Sunday that it could not reach a deal without financial support from the federal government or other banks, making a liquidation more likely.

The leading proposal had been to divide Lehman into two entities, a “good bank” and a “bad bank.” Under that scenario, Barclays would have bought the parts of Lehman that have been performing well, while a group of 10 to 15 Wall Street companies would agree to absorb losses from the bank’s troubled assets, according to two people briefed on the proposal. Taxpayer money would not be included in such a deal, they said.

But that plan fell apart on Sunday, making it likely that Lehman would be forced to liquidate.

The overarching goal of the weekend talks was to prevent a quick liquidation of Lehman, a bank that is so big and so interconnected with others that its abrupt failure would send shock waves through the financial world. Of deep concern is what impact a Lehman failure would have on other securities firms, insurance companies and banks, notably Merrill Lynch and the American International Group, both of which have come under mounting pressure in the markets.

A.I.G., one of the world’s largest insurers, may need to raise $30 billion to $40 billion to avoid a severe downgrade to its credit rating, according to people briefed on the situation. An A.I.G. spokesman, Nicholas J. Ashooh, called that estimate speculative and declined to comment further.

Some considered the weekend talks as high-stakes brinksmanship.

The prospects of a deal involving Bank of America appeared to fade as talks progressed Saturday and it became clear that the government would not stray from its position.

Some considered the weekend talks as high-stakes brinksmanship.

Indeed that is exactly how I considered it.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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