NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bear Stearns Cos Inc Chairman James Cayne told employees and shareholders he was "personally sorry" for the demise of the 85-year-old investment bank, as shareholders on Thursday voted to sell the company to JPMorgan Chase & Co for about $10 a share.
In a roughly five-minute meeting at Bear's Manhattan headquarters, Cayne apologized and said a "hurricane" in the markets brought down the bank, according to attendees. Members of the press were excluded from the session, which attracted roughly 400 shareholders, many of them employees.
A spokesman for JPMorgan Chase told Reuters after the meeting the $1.5 billion deal would be completed on Friday, well ahead of earlier forecasts.
Employees and shareholders, who saw the price of their shares plummet from a record high of $173 last January, essentially were forced to choose between a fire-sale price or bankruptcy.
Attendees described a sad event marked by quiet frustration. No one posed questions or expressed anger to Cayne or Chief Executive Alan Schwartz, who during the past six months presided over the bank's demise.
"They should be ashamed to fly the flag," said Wayne Kaniper, a shareholder and Korean War veteran, pointing to a large American flag in Bear's lobby.
Bear's executives did not take responsibility for the events that first weakened and then led to the firm's sudden collapse in March, when investors and trading partners withdrew their business and their cash from a bank heavily exposed to the U.S. mortgage crisis.
"It's a sad day, but we'll get through it," Schwartz said in brief remarks, according to attendees who spoke to Reuters. "We ran into a hurricane."
Employees declined to give their names because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the bank and feared their employment or severance agreements would be jeopardized.
Cayne, known for his gruff style, surprised many in the audience when he expressed regret. Several shareholders said Cayne appeared thin and drawn.
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