Not Much Lovin' for Lehman

This is one of those times that might drive your casual investor to distraction. After all, didn't Lehman Brothers (NYSE: LEH  ) beat the estimates? Aren't they relatively cheaper than peers/competitors like Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) , Merrill Lynch (NYSE: MER  ) , and Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS  ) ? And yet, here they are -- down about 3% as of this writing.

Certainly the numbers look good on a year-over-year basis. Net revenue was up 35%, net income was up 47% as reported, and both return on equity and book value posted solid improvements. Then again, results were a little softer on a sequential basis with revenue, income, and return on equity all lower than in the first fiscal quarter.

For better or worse, investment banks are often traded as proxies for the near-term outlook on financial markets. So with rates heading higher, housing slowing down, and energy prices still robust, people are jittery. And that's not exactly news -- I think we've all noted the pasting that global equity markets have taken since the beginning of May. I guess that "sell in May and go away" really might be good advice after all.

I can't say that there was a lot about the quarter that really grabbed me. The advisory business is coming along (and the company was involved in deals like the Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) acquisition of Hughes), and it continues to add to assets under management. By the same token, it does have a large mortgage-backed securities business and not quite as much sway in commodities trading or prime brokerage like Goldman Sachs or Bear Stearns (NYSE: BSC  ) .

Even with the steep declines in May, I don't necessarily believe that Lehman is a tremendous bargain. After all, folks are nervous about the financial markets in general, and I don't see why Lehman should be bought ahead of Goldman, Bear Stearns, or Merrill. So while I don't exactly hate it, I don't really love it, either. By the same token, companies are still flush with cash and worldwide investment/speculation transaction volume continues to rise, so it's hard not to like the underlying industry at least a little bit.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson but has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).


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