Wasserstein facing a hazard before Lazard

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The Independent Online

Bruce Wasserstein, a candidate for the vacant chief executive's post at Lazard, this week faces a day of reckoning at American Lawyer Media, the publishing business he chairs. The group, which owns American Lawyer, National Law Journal and The Daily Deal, had its debt downgraded to junk status by the ratings agencies Standard & Poor's and Moody's in the summer. This week it publishes its third-quarter figures, expected to show continuing losses.

Further downgradings are likely and New York analysts believe Mr Wasserstein may have to dig into his own pocket to bail the business out. ALM is controlled by US Equity Partners, a private equity fund managed by Mr Wasserstein and he is also a major investor.

Last year he was said to be in talks with Reed Elsevier, the Anglo-Dutch publisher, to sell the business for more than $1bn (£690m) but nothing came of it. An ALM spokesman refused to comment on the group's finances, though he said the core business was healthy and "we are outperforming our rivals".

Mr Wasserstein is head of Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein (DKW), the investment bank created when German bank Dresdner bought his Wasserstein Perella last year. Dresdner merged with the insurer Allianz this year and a flotation of DKW was proposed. But when the float was shelved and large-scale job losses announced at DKW, Mr Wasserstein was said to be furious with DKW's German parent company. Some analysts feel he may be about to leave the bank.

William Loomis, the chief executive of Lazard, resigned suddenly after only a year in the job. He is said to have clashed with Lazard's chairman, Michel David-Weill. Mr Wasserstein is reported to have been approached by Lazard for the post. Neither he nor the bank would comment.

Lazard recently restructured its operations from a three-headed partnership based in London, Paris and New York. The latest rumour is that Lazard may merge with Lehman Brothers, one of the few independent investment banks left on Wall Street.

Earlier this year, Lehman's approach to blue-blooded City stockbroker Cazenove, proposing a deal, was rebuffed.

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