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Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Lehman staff pack up bags

TOKYO - AS LEHMAN Brothers workers packed their bags across Asia, an employee of the once venerable Wall Street firm in Tokyo said he felt like he had been handed the death penalty.

There was a sombre mood at Lehman's Japanese unit, housed in a 54-storey skyscraper in Tokyo's glitzy Roppongi Hills complex where the bird's-eye view of the capital was once a metaphor for the bank's financial pride.

Employees of the 158-year-old bank, which crumpled under mortgage-related losses, were already trying to get on with their lives even though Lehman has made no official announcement on lay-offs.

'Now I know what it feels like to be handed down the death sentence,' said one American employee in his 20s.

He said he had been closely following developments in the past weeks in the news media, receiving no information from his superiors.

While he was considering enrolling in a US business school next year, 'it looks like I could be leaving (Japan) like, next week', said the employee, who did not want his name used out of concern for his professional future.

A trickle of casually dressed workers braved flashing cameras and drizzling rain to enter the building but it seemed many others stayed away - possibly brushing up their resumes.

Another young Lehman employee decided to take the day off, going for a bike ride to shop and meet friends who worked for teetering Merrill Lynch and the now defunct Bear Stearns.

Smiling with them in a photo entitled 'One crazy day' that she uploaded on her website, she added a hint of sarcasm with the caption: 'reps from former banks'.

Lehman filed for bankruptcy and court protection from its creditors on Monday after potential buyers, including Bank of America and Britain's Barclays PLC, walked away from a deal and the US government refused to intervene.

Currently the bank is in talks with Barclays which is considering acquiring certain of its assets, including its key investment management unit.

Employees were not the only shell-shocked victims - thousands of investors and ordinary shareholders are seeing their holdings blow up, as Lehman shares have plunged 94 per cent to 21 cents.

'I keep getting calls from angry customers yelling at me because they lost all their money. The market is fluctuating so much,' said Mr Tse Yu Tui, a dealer at Prudential Brokerage in Hong Kong.

'I have told them not to buy any more, but they did not listen to me, and then what can I do?' he asked.

Camera crews waited all day in a shopping mall outside of Lehman Brothers' Hong Kong office, which occupies four floors in the city's tallest building.

Local broadcaster Cable News quoted sources as saying that Lehman had told staff in Hong Kong to work half-day shifts from now on until managers figured out a proper arrangement.

Employees at Merrill Lynch were also biting their nails, left guessing over their professional fates after its rescue buyout by Bank of America.

Managers are 'trying to put a positive spin on the whole thing, saying that there will not be much overlap in their business and our business', a Merrill Lynch employee said in Hong Kong.

'The impression is that even if there are going to be any lay-offs, it is going to be much less serious than the situation in the US. Right now even top management have no idea what will happen to them,' she said. -- AFP

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