Fearful staff sell off their Bear Stearns mementos

Amol Rajan
Friday 28 March 2008 01:00

Times are hard for the employees at Bear Stearns. First, the Wall Street investment bank's pride suffered a massive blow when it became America's most high-profile victim of the global credit crunch and had to be bailed out by the Federal Reserve. Then it was bought by a major rival, JPMorgan Chase, whose initial bid was so low, it was met with ridicule.

Now, many of the beleaguered bankers of Bear Stearns, who but weeks ago funded their lavish lifestyles chasing million-dollar deals, appear to be resorting to selling Bear Sterns memorabilia on eBay.

"Do not delay – bail a Bear out today," declared one ad for a stuffed Bear Stearns teddy bear, on offer at $5.50 (£2.70). "Be the first to get your paws on classic Bear Stearns memorabilia," the ad continued, adding that the first bear purchased will come with a free New York skyscraper worth about a billion dollars, depending on availability.

The reference was to the Bear Stearns takeover by JPMorgan Chase for a paltry $236m, which included its corporate headquarters in Manhattan, which alone is thought to be worth $1bn.

A wide range of souvenirs has been put up for sale by some of the 14,000 workers at Bear Stearns now fearful for their jobs. And amazingly, many of the items have already been sold. A T-shirt, priced under $20 and available in three sizes, carries the slogan: "I invested my life savings in Bear Stearns, and all I have left is this lousy T-shirt."

Another item, available for just 11 cents, carries the sales pitch "You are bidding on a collectable Bear Stearns cafeteria card. Unfortunately, I do not need it any more. Shipping is free", while a bank identification card holder was available for a single cent. Not all the mementos were available at such knockdown prices, however. One item described as a Bear Stearns infrastructure cast-iron building bank, attracted bids of up to $224. A print celebrating the former CEO Ace Greenberg's 50th anniversary with the firm is available for $600.

Most souvenirs are priced for the middle market. A Bear Stearns towel was sold for $41 and an executive pen fetched $16.05, while the top bid for a Bear Sterns golf hat was $64.89.

The sale marks the culmination of a humiliating fortnight for some of Wall Street's most despondent workers. Nevertheless, one auctioneer, apparently still an employee, has shown he retains his entrepreneurial fire by offering: "Lunch with a Bear Stearns employee" – himself.

Apocalyptically labelled the "End of Times Lunch", bids are invited from those who wish to be party to "huddled whispering, shell-shocked expressions, dazed employees..." The advert continues that the "winning bidder provides own transportation to and from Bear Stearns. Includes menu and souvenir cafeteria card... yours to keep!" Bids currently stand at $1.99.

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