This week, earnings releases from several investment banks made the industry look like it's playing good cop/bad cop with investors.
The different earnings stories gave the market mixed signals and prompted more speculation about how much longer the credit crisis will go on. Here are some banks in the news recently.
Lehman Brothers (NYSE: LEH ) posted a $2.8 billion loss last week. The earnings report raised still more questions about whether the investment bank is too small to survive this credit crunch. The report also reminded the market that the crisis might be far from over. Good job, Lehman. Way to stick your neck out.
Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) flaunted its magnificence once again this week. It easily beat expectations and proved that a capable, well-managed investment bank can make money under tough conditions. Boy, GS sure makes other investment banks look like losers.
Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS ) reported an abysmal 60% profit drop from last year. The numbers were only that good because of a one-time sale of an investment banking business. MS reminded the market that it isn't Goldman Sachs. Choking on its own subprime overindulgences, Morgan Stanley joined Lehman in reminding everyone that the credit crisis is alive and well.
Law and order
Two Bear Stearns (NYSE: BSC ) hedge fund managers face criminal indictments for allegedly misleading investors about the rosy prospects of the funds, while communicating skepticism with each other and their colleagues. These would be the first criminal charges against Wall Street executives in this subprime crisis, and whether they're guilty or innocent, plenty of departing Bear employees should enjoy sending chills down the spine of Wall Street executives who are responsible.
Meanwhile, in more positive news, the chairman of Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ) is putting his money where his mouth is. He's buying shares in the bank for his personal account for the first time in a decade. That tells us that one banking executive thinks there's light at the end of the tunnel.
Baseball analogies gone wild
Everyone's trying to predict exactly where we are in this mess. Sheila Bair, chairwoman of the FDIC, said she thinks the subprime crisis is in the seventh inning. Just a few months ago, Morgan Stanley analysts said we were in the third inning. Then the Morgan Stanley CEO said he thought we were in "the top of the ninth." Wait a minute. What inning is it again?
Unfortunately, this week resolved nothing about the direction of the market or the length of the current crisis. It was interesting though. Maybe next week holds the key to the future. Stay tuned.