You'll be pretty hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks the $2 per share that JPMorgan Chase
Bear was stuck in some seriously thick mud over the weekend, and its only other option was to prepare for its own funeral. Alas, it took the only other route available: succumb to an all-out fire sale.
But since news of the deal on Sunday, Bear Stearns shares haven't traded anywhere near $2, and in fact they briefly flirted as high as $8.50 during Tuesday's rally. What gives?
My Foolish colleague Tom Hutchinson proposed yesterday that some of the discrepancy may be a result investors who are holding on tight for a higher bid from another bank, such as UBS
Here are a few other explanations this Fool thinks are more likely to blame:
Shorty got back
After Bear was the target of numerous rumors about its liquidity last week -- the same rumors that ended up bringing it down -- it's pretty likely that a wave of hedge funds and other heavy-hitting investors began shorting Bear Stearns stock, hoping to cash in on the impending collapse. Like clockwork, that collapse came to fruition, and those who sold shares short made out like bandits.
For a quick tutorial on the mechanics of shorting, check out this easy-to-understand guide. I'll wait for you to finish ... take your time ... done? Good.
So now you know that once short-sellers make their money, the next step is to repurchase the shares they originally sold. With Bear falling upward of 90% over just a few days, it's likely that many of those short-sellers scrambled to buy back the shares this week and created an artificial demand that explains a lot of the curious price.
Those who hold Bear Stearns bonds are probably making a big push to make sure the deal actually goes through. If the deal fails and Bear goes into bankruptcy, bondholders (and shareholders) might as well be left holding the equivalent of toilet paper.
How does this explain the price run-up? Since the bonds' future requires the deal to be completed, bondholders are probably feverishly buying shares of stock so they can get a say in the shareholder vote on the deal. Even if they have to pay an exorbitant premium on the shares, it's well worth the cost. Unlike shareholders, bondholders actually have a good chance at coming out relatively healthy from all of this, from a financial standpoint. You'd better believe they'll do everything possible to swing a vote in their favor.
There's another party out there that's probably buying shares to gain more voting power: JPMorgan Chase itself. Bear's employees hold about one-third of the company's shares, and since their savings and future employment have pretty much gone up in smoke, they have no big incentive to make sure the deal goes through.
JPMorgan knows that, and since it's getting Bear Stearns virtually for free, it has an enormous incentive to make sure the vote turns out in its favor. Even if it has to pay a huge premium for the shares, the downside of a failed deal would probably cost JPMorgan -- and the entire financial sector -- a sum of money magnitudes greater down the road.
Sure, it's entirely possible that Bear Stearns is trading at a lofty premium simply because it's waiting for a sweetened offer, but if that were the only factor involved, you probably wouldn't see shares trading much above $3 or so.
For those of you crossing your fingers and wishing the $2 deal won't ever come true: Don't hold your breath. There's a sucker born every minute.
Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. He appreciates hearing your questions, comments, and complaints. The Fool's disclosure policy is all about investors writing for investors.